LAS VEGAS — As the Vegas Golden Knights morph from 500-1 long shots to chic pick to hoist the Stanley Cup, Art Manteris is preparing for an emotional roller coaster unlike any he has encountered in three decades as a professional oddsmaker.
Three weeks into the N.H.L. playoffs, Knights jerseys are as ubiquitous on the Las Vegas Strip as poker chips and frozen margaritas, illustrating the team’s enormous popularity. But as much as Manteris would like to see the Knights bring the Cup to the city, he may be forced to take one of the coldest baths of his career if the expansion team defies the odds.
Station Casinos, where Manteris serves as vice president of race and sports book operations, is staring at a seven-figure liability if the Golden Knights cap their inaugural season by winning the Stanley Cup. The liability is the largest for any futures’ bet accepted by a sportsbook managed by Manteris since he moved to Las Vegas in 1978. A handful of other sportsbooks nearby are expected to incur similar losses on the futures market, producing an overall liability between $5 million and $10 million for casinos in Las Vegas, according to Johnny Avello, the executive director of Wynn Las Vegas’s race and sportsbook.
With the Knights up by two games to one against the San Jose Sharks in their Western Conference semifinal series, sportsbook operators are grappling with a puzzling conundrum. While passionate fans line sportsbooks and bars to cheer on the Knights, the books continue to take a beating when the hometown team takes the ice.
According to covers.com, the Knights won 23 of 41 games at home against the spread during the regular season and are 29-10-2 with the money line, winning at a clip of 70.7 percent.
But Station properties have tried to turn those losses into marketing wins. Staci Alonso, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Station Casinos, watched the Knights’ playoff debut April 11 with a raucous crowd at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino in Henderson, Nev. Across town at Red Rock Casino, another Station property, Manteris was told, the “walls started shaking,” at the expansive 206-seat race and sportsbook when Knights defenseman Shea Theodore netted a slap shot from the blue line for the game’s lone goal.
With a sportsbook manager at Green Valley Ranch, Alonso crafted an idea to reward members of the casino’s loyalty program while celebrating the Knights’ run. On April 23, the casino handed out thousands of free futures bets on the Knights to program members at kiosks in seven locations across the valley.
The tickets lock in recipients at odds of 4-1, but vary from as low as $5 to $250 a ticket. Station Casino could give away $1 million in winnings if the Knights win the title in June.
Any potential losses could be offset somewhat by food and beverage revenues as well as table and slot revenues before the playoffs end. Across the Strip, casinos are capitalizing from the increased foot traffic at sportsbooks with increased betting volume on other games in the N.H.L. and N.B.A. playoffs, said Parikshat Khanna, chief executive at CG Technology, the operator of sportsbooks at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and the Venetian and Palazzo hotels.
Betting patterns on the Knights have been atypical, given that the club is the first major professional sports franchise in the country’s mecca of sports gambling. Many Las Vegas locals placed a small futures’ bet on the Knights last fall as a souvenir or keepsake.
But after a 7-0 victory in Game 1 against the Sharks, the Knights emerged as sole favorites to win the Cup with odds of 7-2, by William Hill. The odds dropped steadily throughout the season, as the Knights set an N.H.L. record for most points in a season by an expansion franchise. Over the last year, William Hill, the operator of more than 100 full-service and kiosk locations in Nevada, has booked 350 bets on the Knights to win the Cup at odds of at least 100-1.
On Oct. 8, 2017, two days before the team’s regular-season home debut, a bettor placed a $200 wager with William Hill on the Knights to win the championship at odds of 200-1. On Oct. 25, hours after the Golden Knights improved to 7-1, William Hill accepted a $1,000 bet at 50-1.
William Hill also began a promotion this spring, where it will award new members with a $5 bonus for every win by the Golden Knights in the playoffs. The bonus represents a sliver of the company’s seven-figure liability, a William Hill spokesman said.
For bettors unsure whether the team will pull off the miraculous feat, another option exists. More than a dozen holders of Golden Knights’ future bets have sold their tickets on PropSwap.com, a Las Vegas-based start-up that serves as an intermediary between buyers and sellers. Prop Swap, which was founded in 2015, does not purchase futures tickets, but sets a price that satisfies both parties, then receives a commission for brokering the transaction.
Before Game 3 of the World Series, a bettor sold a $3,000 futures wager placed on the Astros earlier in the season for $13,600. When Houston won in seven games, the buyer collected $31,000, on odds of 2.28-1.
The majority of Prop Swap tickets on the Knights have sold in the range of $500 to $2,000, with the bulk of transactions occurring in March after the team clinched a playoff spot.
“We have uncovered this greediness in America that I did not think existed, but is alive and well,” said Luke Pergande, a co-founder of Prop Swap.
The company, which Pergande likens to other vertical marketplaces such as Uber and AirBNB, has a vast database of pending tickets available for buyers. The largest bet, a $300 wager on the Knights at 400-1, is listed on the site for $33,000. The selling price jumped more than 40 percent last week in response to the Knights’ lopsided win over the Sharks and defeats by the Predators and the Lightning in Game 1 of their respective series.
Although the most experienced sportsbook managers may be in for a tense evening if the Knights reach a clinching game in the Stanley Cup finals, the young entrepreneurs at Prop Swap could enjoy a nice payday regardless of the outcome.
Manteris said that no one in his business will root against the Knights, considering how the team has infused the city with an energy level he has not seen since Jerry Tarkanian’s U.N.L.V. Running Rebels dominated college basketball in the 1990s.
“I loved that and I’ll love the Knights too, just maybe starting next year,” Manteris said with a laugh.