Posted on June 30, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
At the start of the NBA playoffs, there were 16 teams vying for a title. Eventually, 15 teams went home losers, as the Golden State Warriors won their second championship in three years. But there was another loser during the NBA playoffs, a big loser. That loser was the Nevada bookmakers, who lost $4.4 million on $96.2 million of basketball wagering during the month of May. It was the largest one-month loss Nevada bookmakers have ever taken in basketball. The second largest was all the way back in April 1997 when they took a hit of $3.5 million.
The reason why Nevada sports books took such a loss during the NBA playoffs is the same reason the playoffs themselves lacked drama in the eyes of many fans. The playoffs were dominated by favorites, most notably the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Anyone watching could see that Golden State and Cleveland were on a collision course for the finals, and ultimately, neither team had much trouble winning their conference championship and advancing to the NBA Finals.
Anyone watching could see that Golden State and Cleveland were on a collision course for the finals, and ultimately, neither team had much trouble winning their conference championship and advancing to the NBA Finals. The success of those teams during the playoffs translated to success for bettors.
During the month of May, the favored team won 25 of 29 games during the NBA playoffs. Favorites also covered the spread 65% of the time. The Warriors were 5-3 against the spread in May, while the Cavaliers were 6-2-1. It wasn’t all that difficult for bettors to notice this trend, and they had no problem taking advantage of it at the expense of Nevada bookmakers.
“Obviously, the public was hammering the favorites and overs in the month of May and really taking the books out to the proverbial woodshed,” said Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for the Nevada Gaming Control Board. “It was a bloodbath.”
Perhaps even more surprising than the huge loss bookmakers took during the NBA playoffs was who benefited from all that winning. It wasn’t the sharps getting the better of Vegas; it was casual bettors and the general public who took away most of the $4.4 million that bookmakers lost. The key for the public was as simple as figuring out the better team.
“We noticed a shift. The public is going away from handicapping the point spread and instead just backing the better team to win with the money line,” said Jeff Sherman, an NBA oddsmaker with the Las Vegas Westgate Superbook.
However, Nevada sports books are ready to make the necessary adjustments to make sure they don’t see a repeat of May’s losses in the future.
“If we see the same circumstance with two teams on a path to the Finals, we will use a higher money line associated with that particular point spread,” explains Sherman.
Rest assured that despite heavy losses in May, Nevada sports books will eventually come out on top. In fact, bookmakers still earned an overall profit of $2.9 million in May. The big losses on the basketball court were offset by $6.6 million won in baseball on a handle of $173.6 million. Baseball is typically one of the lowest holding sports for bookmakers, but it ended up bailing them out in May following a historic loss during the NBA playoffs.