LOS ANGELES — Despite a hole in the infield and a depleted bench, the Los Angeles Dodgers already have the makeup of a playoff team. And with pitching a key factor in postseason success, it’s not surprising that bookies are listing the Clayton Kershaw-led Dodgers as favorites to win next year’s World Series.
But to be champions, the Dodgers would have to become the first team in at least 13 years to win the World Series after opening with the best odds, according to the online sports book TopBet. The odds boards at Las Vegas Hotel & Casino have cast similar droughts since the New York Yankees reigned as expected three times in a row from 1998-2000 and won again as favorites in 2009.
At most sports books, the Dodgers were installed as 2014 favorites this fall during the 2013 playoffs. The choice was largely based on their dramatic summer turnaround, strong rotation and limited exposure to free agency losses. But oddsmakers also factor in the size of a teams’ fan base and its proximity to Nevada betting destinations.
The Dodgers, Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets are among the baseball teams that receive significant interest no matter the year. Going into last season at 7-1 odds, the Dodgers received more bets at LVH SuperBook than any other baseball team. Early struggles dropped them to 40-1 in June. But the bandwagon grew as Yasiel Puig delivered new life, said LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay. Odds surged to 3-1 in September.
“There was no hotter ticket on the board,” Kornegay said.
With even more Dodgers bets expected this season, oddsmakers had to limit the risk of a huge payout — creating better odds for the Dodgers at 5-1 than the team might truly deserve. Five-to-one means the team has a one-in-six, or 17 percent, chance of winning the title. A $100 bet would profit $500.
“We’re not necessarily saying that they are the favorite,” said MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood. “We’re putting the odds together looking at how our action is going to come and looking at our liability.”
Because oddsmakers had to expect that the hype surrounding the Dodgers wouldn’t die, they had to inflate the team’s chances of winning. And at least at MGM, they’ve been proven right. Already, the Dodgers have more money on them to win the World Series than any other club.
“If we were to handicap from a pure standard of who’s going to win it . . . I might have had the Dodgers in second or third spot,” Rood said.
Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers were among the teams that slid behind the Dodgers. The Boston Red Sox fell further down and stayed there even after winning the World Series because oddsmakers such as Kornegay didn’t feel the team could repeat its emotional run or replicate the “Boston Strong” aura.
Similarly, the Cubs rarely fall into the “stratospheric odds” category though they might deserve to, Rood said. Last season, the Cubs — who haven’t played in the World Series since 1945 and haven’t won it since 1908 — started with about 10 percent more bets at MGM than any other team (the Dodgers passed them after the All-Star break). The heavy action limits the Cubs’ ability to draw long odds.
Futures betting is significant business for Nevada casinos and off-shore gambling websites because it attracts tourists and casual bettors, who more often than not treat the outlay as an extra reason to root for their favorite teams.
“People like to think about the World Series, and say, ‘If my team ever wins it, I want to make sure I have a ticket to say I bet on (whomever) to win the World Series,” said Steve Mikkelson, race and sports book manager for Atlantis Casino in Reno.
That desire could explain why Atlantis has seen so much action on the Lakers. Mikkelson said that even after adjusting for the Los Angeles big-market bounce, the amount of betting on the Lakers this season has surprised him.
“They don’t have any shot of winning at all,” he said. “I didn’t expect that many Lakers futures.”
Championship odds work similarly in college sports, football and hockey. Bets typically start pouring in when the initial odds are posted after the World Series, Super Bowl or respective championship. They trickle in throughout the off-season, and the biggest action comes just before the season begins. Championship odds are continually adjusted throughout the season.
In the NFL this year, that’s meant big leaps in Super Bowl odds for a team such as the Carolina Panthers. Bettors who jumped in at the right time could find themselves looking at a payout of nearly 200 times the initial bet if they wagered just before oddsmakers caught onto the Panthers and lowered their odds to the tens.
Shopping around to find such “bargains” is how veteran bettors profit off futures. Only once since 2001 has the original NFL favorite — the 2006 Indianapolis Colts — won the Super Bowl, according to data collected by Sportsoddshistory.com.
The NBA is the exception in the futures odds game because a relatively small number of teams are contenders each year and seven-game series throughout the playoffs give favorites an edge. During the last four seasons, the team with the best odds has come out on top three times, with only the mid-ranked Mavericks going against the trend by winning in 2010. The favorite edge in the NBA means odds are high and payouts are minimal. Bettors have increasingly stayed away from NBA futures.
Day-to-day bettors such as Covers.com baseball handicapper Steve Merril remain wary of futures bets because of the long wait and great risk for a return.
“You might like a future play, but is it really worth investing and tying up that money for seven months rather than using it daily?” he said.
Instead, veteran sports bettors prefer to bet during spring training when oddsmakers release over/under total wins figures. The house edge, or the advantage a bookmaker holds over a player, is about 5 percent in these bets compared to about 30 percent in futures odds.
For example, the Atlantis last spring said the Dodgers would win 90 games. Bettors who said the Dodgers would win more than 90 games risked $110 to win $100, walking away with $210 in total when the Dodgers finished at 92 wins. Unlike futures odds, betting on win totals typically closes at the start of the season.
“It’s a pretty fun sweat,” said Greg Mascio, a professional poker player who often bets on sports. “You don’t have to bet every day, but you get to be in action every day.”
If history is a handicapper, teams in the upper-middle of the pack in baseball’s odds list would be smart bets. This year, that would include teams such as the Angels and the Baltimore Orioles.
For the Dodgers, staring at their best consensus starting odds since opening at 8-1 in 2009, recent history is against their capturing their first title since 1988. But in 2009, they did at least make it to the National League Championship Series, losing in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies.
“The Dodgers being the favorites means they have a very good team and a very good chance of making the playoffs,” said Rodney Paul, a Syracuse economics professor who studies sports betting. “But it’s by no means a foregone conclusion.”