Most of the Golden Knights’ players hadn’t even arrived in Las Vegas yet when Jason Sakuma made his bet.
On June 25, 2017 — only four days after the expansion draft — Sakuma walked into the Fiesta Henderson and placed a $50 bet on his new hometown team to win the Stanley Cup at 175-to-1 odds.
“It was like buying a $50 souvenir,” Sakuma said. “I didn’t think there was any way I’d have a chance at winning. I was going to frame (the losing ticket) and put it in my office.”
Born and raised in Henderson, Sakuma spent the first 35 years of his life without a professional team. When the NHL granted Las Vegas an expansion team, he immediately bought season tickets, and supplemented them with a future wager.
The $50 bet, with a possible payout of $8,750, was more sentimental than logical at the time.
Fast forward eight months, and the Golden Knights lead the Western Conference by three points, the Pacific Division by 12, and are the betting favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup at most sports books in town.
Last week, the Golden Knights’ odds to win it all fell to 9-to-2 at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning at 5-to-1.
They were as high as 500-to-1 at one point during the preseason, according to Superbook manager Jeff Sherman.
“It’s our largest liability we’ve ever had on NHL futures,” Sherman said.
There are twice as many bets on the Golden Knights to win the Cup then the next closest team, but because most bets have been small ($100 or lower), they are only third in money wagered behind the Lightning and Penguins.
Still, because the odds started so astronomically high, the book has tried to get money against the Golden Knights winning it all by creating a “Will Vegas win the Stanley Cup? Yes or No” proposition bet.
“That’s reduced some of our overall liability,” said Sherman, who added a lot of professional handicappers wagered large amounts on the Golden Knights not winning the Stanley Cup at minus-550 (risking $5.50 to win $1) odds, quickly raising the price to minus-750.
Sherman said the hometown market has affected the single-game lines for the Golden Knights as well, swaying the line 10 or 15 cents in Vegas’ favor. This means if the Golden Knights are minus-150 in a non-Las Vegas market like Europe, they are minus-160 or minus-165 in Las Vegas to account for all of the support they receive at the betting windows.
Golden Knights’ home games receive more than 10 times the betting action of a regular NHL game, according to Sherman. They’re sometimes on par with Sunday NFL games as far as handle.
As for Sakuma’s bet on them to win it all, he plans on riding it out.
The site PropSwap allows bettors to buy and sell future bets before the final outcome, essentially hedging a bet if the odds have changed in your favor since you placed the bet. PropSwap has advertised several Golden Knights bets, including one for sale at $17,000 that would pay $120,400 if the team won the Stanley Cup.
In Sakuma’s case, his $50 bet would sell for approximately $1,500 on PropSwap.
“I started the process (of getting an estimate) and then I stopped, because I don’t even want to know what it might be worth,” Sakuma said. “It’s not about the amount. We’ve gotten this far and I thought I had zero chance of winning this ticket so I’m just going to roll with it.”
If the Golden Knights fall short, Sakuma still wants to save the ticket as a sign of the faith he had in his hometown’s first expansion team in major professional sports.
“It’s still a souvenir,” he said. “I’m still going to frame it and put it up on the wall.”