Betting Interest Expected to Be Down with NBA, NHL Finals Lacking Marquee Matchups

LAS VEGAS — The NBA Finals could’ve featured glamour teams like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, and conventional thinking before the NHL playoffs stated the dominant Boston Bruins and star-studded Edmonton Oilers were on a near-collision course to meet in the Stanley Cup Final.

All four teams are out, and what could’ve been enormous betting interest has largely waned.

On the NBA side, No. 8 seed Miami Heat will face an NBA Finals newcomer in the Denver Nuggets, an enormous minus-460 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Christian Cipollini, BetMGM trading manager, said a Celtics-Lakers matchup would have created much more betting action, but the sportsbook was on the hook for many futures bets on those teams.

“A Celtics-Lakers series is nine times out of 10 going to be a losing series for the book,” Cipollini said. “Everyone bets the Lakers-Celtics. Our Lakers money was bad. We didn’t want the Lakers to go any farther than they did.”

A Celtics appearance in the Finals, however, wouldn’t have been bad for all sportsbooks. David Lieberman, who oversees NBA betting for Caesars, said the Celtics didn’t attract a lot of futures action, limiting the book’s liability. Like BetMGM, though, a Lakers championship would have proved a nightmare scenario.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler responds to a question during a news conference before practice for Game 1 of the NBA basketball finals against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday, May 31, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“It would’ve been quite the sweat if they had the chance to win it all,” Lieberman said.

The Stanley Cup Final matches up the last team into the Eastern Conference playoffs in the Florida Panthers against a Vegas Golden Knights team that, in six short years, is making their second championship appearance.

Adding Las Vegas to the NHL was an initial betting boost for the league, but that effect is less noticeable with the spread of legalized sports betting. The Knights are minus-125 favorites, according to FanDuel.

“People kind of fell off this Golden Knights bandwagon this season,” Cipollini said. “We take a little bit less bets than we have in the past. When they started, people were all over them.”

Minnesota-based Alex B. Smith, one of the top NHL handicapping experts, said the Knights’ effect on elevating the league’s standing among bettors should not be minimized. The NHL is noticeably behind the NFL and NBA in betting interest, but is in the next tier, largely thanks to the Knights’ run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

“Now it’s something they’re really watching and kind of follow, especially from a betting aspect,” Smith said. “That started off of the back with that season of Vegas. That season really kind of changed the way the betting landscape would open up and adapt.”


Smith said NHL bettors should be aware that many books offer bets on whether games will go into overtime or have a regulation draw, which is the same thing. Because bettors tend to look for the prop bets offering whether a game will reach OT, the other better-priced wager is often ignored.

He took Saturday’s Game 1 at plus-320 to end in a regulation draw, and said that prop can go as high as plus-345, while an overtime bet tends to be around plus-300 or plus-305.

“You short yourself anywhere from 20 to 40 cents on a given day,” Smith said. “There’s literally no difference. It’s just how it’s worded. I don’t know how the books are allowed to do this.”


First, it was Miami Hurricanes making college basketball’s Final Four, and now that region’s NBA and NHL teams are playing for championships in those leagues.

It would make sense for some kind of South Florida proposition bet to tap into the excitement there, but sports betting is still not legal in that state. Hard Rock Sportsbook is owned by the Seminoles tribe and had a monopoly in Florida, but a federal judge tossed that agreement in 2021.


When legalized sports betting was limited to Nevada during the Knights’ first Stanley Cup Final run, the lines were skewed to Vegas because locals jumped in on the action.

“We’re in so many states now, we have to go with what we think will be the right line for for everyone,” Lieberman said. “Sometimes we’ll take a little more action on certain teams from certain states. Like New York, there are quite a few bettors there that bet with us, so some New York teams are usually popular on daily games or futures prices and stuff like that. But, ultimately, we’re trying to put out the best odds and not worry as much about that.”


Comparing betting numbers on the NBA and NHL championships from year to year is tricky because legalized sports wagering has moved far beyond Nevada’s state lines.

The COVID-19 pandemic also skewed the numbers because it forced both leagues to alter their playoff schedules to be in more direct competition with other sports.

“I expect (the betting handle) to be slightly down,” Cipollini said. “But there’s also perspective that we’ve gone into more than states, so the numbers might tell me that it’s up from last year when really realistically, it might not be.”



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