The public is betting on the NBA like it’s the 1980s.
“It’s all Lakers and Celtics,” MGM sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback said.
Book by book across Las Vegas, the Los Angeles Lakers have attracted the most bets to win the NBA championship this season. The Boston Celtics, the favorites in the Eastern Conference, are a close second. The Celtics are 5-1 while the Lakers are 12-1 to win the title.
As of Wednesday, out of the hundreds of NBA championship wagers placed at MGM sportsbooks, the Lakers had just 18 more bets than the Celtics. However, both teams had drawn more than three times as many bets as had been placed on any other team. The Houston Rockets are a distant third.
“After the Lakers and Celtics, there’s a very wide gap,” said Jeff Sherman, manager at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.
Somewhere on the other side of that gap sit the two-time defending-champion Golden State Warriors, who, at odds of around -200, are potentially the most convincing favorites entering a season ever. Having to put up $200 on the Warriors to win $100 eight months later isn’t a popular option for the general betting public, but there have been some large investments on Golden State.
The SuperBook said it took a pair of $10,000 bets on Golden State in June, and MGM reported taking a six-figure bet on the Warriors over the summer.
“If you take away that big bet, though, the Celtics would have more money,” said the MGM’s Stoneback, adding that Boston is the most popular bet at their sportsbook at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
FanDuel said the Celtics account for 45 percent of the handle that’s been wagered on its sportsbook’s odds to win the title. The largest liability for FanDuel, which operates the sportsbook at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, is the New York Knicks, who are 500-1.
Either the Lakers or Celtics were in every NBA Finals of the 1980s, including three classic head-to-head meetings featuring Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
The Lakers signed LeBron James as a free agent in the offseason, in hopes of returning to those glory years. The franchise has not reached the playoffs since the 2012-13 season but, with the addition of James, are listed as -400 favorites to return to the postseason this year at the SuperBook.
James’ former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, are the SuperBook’s largest liability in its NBA title futures market.
“When all the speculation was going around [regarding James], we took some action on [the Cavs],” Sherman said. “We took a $2,000 bet and a $1,000 bet on them at 50-1. Now, they’re 500-1.”