"Don't bet on teams. Bet on numbers."
The Montreal Canadiens-Las Vegas Golden Knights NHL playoff semifinals offers what could very well be sports gambling's best contrarian wager of the year.
This is an extraordinary opportunity to fade the (gambling) public's obvious biases which clearly favour of the Golden Knights and jump on the real betting market value, which is on the underdog Canadiens.
The best-of-seven playoff series begins on Monday night.
LIVING IN LAS VEGAS
I live in Las Vegas. So, I see this first-hand.
Here, Golden Knights fever is very real. For four years now, Las Vegas' first-ever major league sports franchise has been the absolute darling of the city. When fans were allowed into the home arena at full capacity, every single game sold out. The Golden Knights rewarded this fan enthusiasm with a shocking and unprecedented appearance in the 2018 Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural Cinderella season. And, they've made it into the playoffs every year since. Many supporters believe 2021 is their year to win it all. Who would have thought Las Vegas would become a hotbed for ice hockey?
The thing is, this energy and enthusiasm is warping all sense of proper perspective. The local excitement is now influencing sports betting markets. Everywhere around town – from bars to grocery stores – locals wear Golden Knights jerseys and have bumper stickers plastered on their SUVs. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury could probably run for Las Vegas Mayor and win in a landslide.
Here's the Golden Knights practice arena in Downtown Summerlin. I live about two miles away. When practices are open to the public, this arena even sells out:
KEYWORD OF THE DAY: VALUE
Don't get me me wrong. This wonderful sports story sure has been fun to experience. But if we're talking about making money betting on hockey, then it's a compelling reason to take the other side, especially right now at the current prices around town.
This is especially true if you reside in Las Vegas, where the market is even more jaded in favour of the home team.
Keep in mind that the Las Vegas NHL market is quite wealthy by most standards. Golden Knights fans have money. Game tickets sell for several hundred dollars each, that is, if you can find them. People who go to these games aren't laying down money on the visting teams. They're betting the Golden Knights with double fists. And now, the Golden Knights are huge favourites because the avalanche of money (sorry, Colorado) is overwhelming.
If we can agree that sports betting is entirely based the interpretation of value, a wager on the Montreal Canadiens, especially at +420, is mandatory. You won't find a more jaded number than that. That's the price I've seen at a few Las Vegas casinos. Up in Canada, the markets are a bit more realistic. Here's the latest number from SPREADS.CA, one of Canada's biggest sports betting websites which shows the Canadiens at +370:
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A "CONTRARIAN"
How do locals create value for contrarians? Let me address this question.
Note: I first coined the term "contrarian" for sports betting in my writings about 20 years ago. I took an investment term mostly from stock markets and applied the principle to sports wagering since the concept is the same. Now, "contrarianism" is a common term refering to bettors to wager against popular sentiment.
A short history lesson: A generation ago – before sports betting was offshore, long before the Internet, and way before there was a global interest in all sporting events – the sports-betting universe revolved around once place – Las Vegas. This was the only location to legally gamble. So, this market was often jaded by several factors.
There used to be a factor, which was called "the California crowd." This refered to the many thousands of visitors from California who would fill the Nevada casinos and sportsbooks, especially on weekends. Of course, these Californians usually bet on their favourite teams. This is when the Los Angeles Lakers were kings. Los Angeles games would be inflated by 2-3 points because everyone bet the Lakers. The same thing also applied to the Rams, Raiders, and Dodgers, epecially when those teams were winners. All that California money moved the lines.
This wasn't just a Las Vegas thing. The same thing used to happen up in Reno and Lake Tahoe, especially during the mighty reign of the San Francisco 49ers. When San Francisco was winning five Super Bowls, the pointspreads on their games would be skewed in Northern Nevada, which was bombarded with Bay Area (and Silicon Valley) money. Nevermind that the 49ers usually covered, no matter what the number.
Most of us thought those days were over and a glorious thing of the past, but now here we are again. It's happening right now, with the Golden Knights. No one is paying $800 for playoff ticket so they can bet on the Canadiens. Nobody. Besides, if they can afford $800 seats, many are laying down some serious coin on the beloved Golden Knights. Consider the fact that the series line in some local sportsbooks moved from +370 to +420. Oddsmakers adjusted the line anyway, but they didn't adjust it enough. They failed to take into account the energy and money attached to the Golden Kights.
It seems almost sacrilegious to call the Montreal Canadiens an overlooked and disrespected team. After all, this is one of the NHL original glamour franchises. No hockey team in the world has a richer history nor deeper fan base that dates back more than a century. Call them whatever -- Les Canadiens (or Le Canadien), Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, La Sainte-Flanelle, Le Tricolore, Les Glorieux (or Nos Glorieux), Le CH, Le Grand Club or Les Habitants (or "Habs") – the Canadiens are legendary.
But Montreal isn't a big gambling market, with all due respect to those of you reading this in Quebec.
The Habs also stumbled into the 2021 playoffs with the worst record of any of the 16 teams that made it into the post-season. Despite upsetting the top-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs and then making a mockery of the Winnipeg Jets in the second round, and despite winning seven straight playoff games, the gambling public doesn't appear to be impressed with Montreal. Certainly not the American betting market. And absolutely not here in Las Vegas.
So, again – think contrarian.
The wild card factor in all of this discussion is uncertainty about the strength of each of the four divisions. Keep in mind all four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup hunt haven't played a common schedule of opponents. Each club has been segregated within a division of 7 or 8 teams. This marks the first time this season that Montreal will play a team based in the United States (all of their previous games were in Canada versus North Division teams). Could either the North Division or the West Division (which included the Golden Knights) be soft? Or perhaps one of these division is better than the rest. We really don't know.
My point is – all this uncertainty adds value to the underdog. Randomness is a longshot bettor's best freind. The more uncertainty there is about a game or a series, the more likely it is that the underdog is the correct side – at least in terms of value.
Will Montreal upset Las Vegas? Probably not, at least according to the current odds. But the Canadiens' chances are much better than 20 percent (roughly 4-1 against). Bank on that. That's a number to bet on.
There's an old saying in sports gambling, which goes like this" "Don't bet on teams. Bet on numbers." Montreal +370 is a good number. Montreal +420 is a great number.