Bookmakers break down NBA, NHL playoffs, big bets

With the football season still months away, there's nothing like a good Game 7 to keep the sports betting juices flowing. Thankfully — or perhaps we should say hopefully — the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are set to deliver just that on Monday night to cap Memorial Day weekend.

That's not the only work in the sports betting space, though.

With half of the Stanley Cup Final field set, the Florida Panthers await the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars in the Western Conference. Even in late May, the NFL is part of the betting landscape.

So let's serve up a smorgasbord on the NBA and NHL playoffs, as well as reveal the details of how your NFL picks can net you $14 million this fall.

Boston bounces back

Last Monday night, the eighth seed was sitting with a 3-0 series lead against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. A week later, Boston's series is tied at 3, and we're getting a huge Game 7 in Beantown on Monday night.

The winner advances to meet the Denver Nuggets, making their first NBA Finals appearance. Boston is a 7.5-point home favorite against Miami (with Fox Bets), but BetMGM Nevada's Scott Shelton says the action on the Strip is trending toward the underdog.

“Instantly, they jumped on the heat here. We went from 8.5 to 7.5,” Shelton said, noting the sharp money dropped in Miami when the line first went up Saturday night after Boston's buzz-beating Game 6 tied the series. “The number of tickets hits about 6-1, and the money hits about 7-1.”

Total just popped too.

“Underay had sharp play immediately,” Shelton said Sunday night. “We opened on 206.5, and as soon as it opened on Saturday night, it got pounded. We're now on 203.5.”

(Related: Heat-Celtic Game 7 Odds)

Shelton said there aren't any big bets on Game 7 yet, but he expects a high roller or two to weigh in before the 8:30 pm ET tipoff. Regardless, thanks to Eastern Conference Championship Futures betting, the Heat are a significant liability in Vegas.

“To win the East, we're in the mid-six-figures to the Heat,” Shelton said, noting there is an upside to that potential loss. “However, if the Heat can win it all against the Nuggets, the Celtics have won it all.”

The bigger picture, though, is that LeBron James & Co. All BetMGM Nevada out of the picture is required.

“Once the Lakers got out, it felt like we were on a free roll,” Shelton said. “If the Lakers had won the championship, it would have been the biggest futures-book loss in BetMGM Nevada history.”

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think ahead

Rex Byers has worked for some of the most respected sportsbooks in the industry, including The SuperBook and South Point of Vegas. Beyers is now head of betting at PlayUp USA, which operates in New Jersey and Colorado.

With the Nuggets already in the NBA Finals, the Bears discussed the series odds for a potential Celtics-Nuggets matchup and a Heat-Nuggets matchup.

“I rate the Nuggets higher than everybody else, and I have the whole time,” Bears said of his position throughout the playoffs. “I think Denver is the best team.”

However, Boston will have home-court advantage against Denver in the Finals, for what it's worth. The Bears think the advantage is almost negligible, though the Celts will likely open as favorites.

“Home court doesn't mean that much in today's NBA, and I really don't think Boston can be any kind of real favorite. The Celtics are going to be a short series favorite, but they shouldn't be -140 or higher, which I think they are. Maybe,” Beyers said. “I think it should be much closer to a pick (-110). I'll pay the cheapest price in Boston. I'll make sure my first bet is taken in Boston.”

The Bears also noted that Denver is great at home, going 34-7 in the regular season and 8-0 so far in the postseason.

“I think the Nuggets win all three at home. All Denver needs to do in theory is win one on the road. And I think they can win two on the road,” he said. “Nothing would surprise me more than Boston winning. Whether the games are in Boston, Denver or Mars, I can't see the Celtics beating Denver four times.”

Of course, the Heat will say something about the NBA Finals matchup. If Miami resumes its Cinderella playoff run by winning Game 7 in Boston, the Bears will make Denver a significant NBA Finals favorite.

“If it's Heat-Nuggets, I'd say Denver -550/Miami +425,” Beyers said. “A little less or a little more wouldn't surprise me, but I don't see too much of it.”

Florida watch and wait

Meanwhile, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, another No. 8 seed from the Sunshine State is already in the Championship Series. The Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So the Panthers are already resting for five days, and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final isn't until Saturday. That means Florida will get plenty of rest after the Golden Knights and Stars take care of business in the Western Conference Finals. Regardless of who wins the West, Vegas or Dallas will have home-ice advantage against Florida.

If it's a Panthers-Knights Cup Final, Bears – who works out of Las Vegas – will have very different needs than most Sin City bookmakers.

“We're in bad shape with Florida,” Bears said, pointing to the Stanley Cup futures market in the playoffs. “We've got money on Florida at 45-1, 35-1 and 30-1. I'm the only bookmaker in Vegas that's going to root for the Knights. We need the Knights for a pile. We're a small winner to the Knights, and we'd rather lose to Florida than we are.” I can lose more.”

Likewise, the book needs stars if they are to advance to face the Panthers.

“If it was anyone other than Florida, we'd be rooting for that side,” Beyers said.

What is the guarantee?

For the past few weeks, Circa Sports has been advertising its annual NFL draft contests asking, “What's a guarantee?”

The guarantee is how much Vegas casino owner and avid sports bettor Derek Stevens will raise in two contests: Circa Millions, where contestants pick five NFL picks against the point spread each week of the regular season; and Circa Survivor, where contestants pick one a week, but cannot use the same team twice.

For the 2023-24 NFL season, that guarantee is $14 million — $8 million for Circa Survivor and $6 million for Circa Million. It costs $1,000 to enter each contest, but when you think of it as a $1,000 bet on the surface that lasts throughout the season, many people find it pretty attractive.

“It certainly has some appeal when you think about it. It's less than 60 bucks a week,” Stevens said. “You get a huge amount of entertainment value. You can play from anywhere. Everything goes into it. You get a huge amount of action for the cost. And if you get hot, the upside is incredible.”

In fact, Circa Million guarantees $1 million to the winner — the competitor with the best opposition record throughout the season — and cash to the top 100 finishers. In addition, there are quarterly payouts and even a $100,000 prize for the contestant posting the worst record. And all entry-fee money goes back to the contestants. Circa Sports doesn't make a dime.

Circa Survivor is, as its name suggests, a winner-take-all pool. Last season's winner cleared $3 million. In both contests, as Stevens points out, you don't have to live in Nevada to compete. You'll need to make a trip to downtown Las Vegas before the NFL season starts to check in and have a Vegas-based proxy submit your picks each week.

Arguably the most interesting aspect of both competitions is that, while there are plenty of recreational bettors involved, professionals are also involved. Generally speaking, sharp bets don't like to tie up their money for months at a time. But the perceived value in such competition makes it worthwhile.

“Both of our tournaments are played for both novices and sharps,” Stevens said. “The fact that we don't charge any rake (from entry fees) to any of our soccer competitions allows for a positive expected value scenario, which attracts professionals. The simplicity makes it attractive to first timers.

“It's a really unique situation that makes them both attractive and points to a growing consumer base.”

I love Big Bet and I can't lie

Well, I've only got one bet to mention in this space, and it's not a big one. But it was a really nice payout, and it speaks to more general sports betting.

DraftKings sportsbook offers an NBA playoff proposition bet on whether a game in the Eastern Conference Finals will be decided by a market-beating game-winning basket. In Saturday's Game 6, that's exactly what happened.

With Boston trailing 103-102 and just three seconds left, Marcus Smart took an inbounds pass from Derrick White and made a desperation 3-pointer. Smart's shot misses, but White crashes the board and tips in the rebound as the clock expires.

So the Celtics won 104-103, and anyone who jumped on that prop — who paid +4000 ($10 bet to win a total of $410) — cashed out nicely on DraftKings. The largest bet accepted by DK was only $100

Still, a $4,000 win is a nice return on a $100 investment. May we all see such ROI in any bet throughout our lives.

Enjoy Heat-Celtics Game 7 and Knights-Stars Game 6 and remember: don't bet more than you can afford to lose. Keep it reasonable, people.

Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and senior reporter for He is a prominent journalist in the national sports betting space. He is based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys golf in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @Patrick_Vegas.

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