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You’ve heard the cries from disgruntled fans:
“These games are fixed, the leagues are in cahoots with Vegas and are out to stick it to the average bettor! They want the big teams to win, but not cover the spread.”
Another familiar refrain:
“These games are rigged, the league wants big-name teams in the finals for TV ratings!”
Can we finally put these ridiculous claims from angry bettors (guys who lost their bet) and the television conspiracy-theory backers to bed? Not a chance, but let’s look at some very current evidence to the contrary.
The NBA and NHL currently are in their conference finals rounds — the league semifinals, with the winners playing for the championship. Two of the four combined series among those leagues were sweeps and the other two were on the verge of joining them, with both reaching 3-0 leads before the trailing team showed a glimmer of hope by winning.
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But even if both those series end up going seven games, the leagues will have had played only 71% of the possible semifinal games. If both series end Saturday, it would be just 68%.
The result of fewer games is less potential money for the bookies, because the house always wins in the long run.
So much for conspiracy theory No. 1.
On to gripe No. 2: The leagues, to maximized television ratings (hence revenue), want the high-profile teams in the finals and officiate the games accordingly.
What was the NBA’s Western Conference finals matchup? It was upstart Denver, which never has been in the NBA Finals, facing the most storied team and publicized team in the West — the Los Angeles Lakers.
The result? Oh yeah, the Nuggets swept NBA ratings magnet LeBron James and the rest of the Lakers. Swept — as in no wins for LA, no chance to sell millions of dollars more in TV commercials for the three games that were not played, plus abandoned ticket sales and spending in those arenas.
There are some bettors who look at it another way, claiming it was a dirty deal between the league and bookies to suck up a lot of money from those who wagered on the Lakers. They better rethink that. Despite losing on the court, LA was the winner at the betting windows for the first two games as it covered the pointspread as a road underdog in those.
What is the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals matchup? It’s the unheralded Miami Heat, the last seed in the conference, leading the powerful Boston Celtics 3-2 after having built a 3-0 advantage. But despite going into the matchup as a big favorite, Boston for all its troubles still is only one game under .500 against the spread in the series.
The Celtics are the East’s version of the Lakers, its most storied team with a large national following and a star and highly marketed player in native St. Louisan Jayson Tatum. So unless the Celtics do something that never has been accomplished in NBA history, a team overcoming a 3-0 playoff deficit to win, the NBA Finals will feature Denver against Miami. Although the Nuggets have been dominant all season and have arguably the league’s best player, Nikola Jokic, they are way under the radar for casual fans. So is Miami, with Jimmy Butler the biggest name.
Denver-Miami? Let the publicists have fun promoting that one. At least there might be some people in St. Louis tuning in to root against the Nuggets — they are owned by local villain Stan Kroenke.
In the NHL the story is even more profound, as the conference finals are filled by Sun Belt teams. Only two of the “original six” clubs made the playoffs. The team that set the league record for most regular-season points, the Boston Bruins, were knocked out in the first round. The other original team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, were bounced in the second round.
Florida, led by St. Louisan Matthew Tkachuk, already has swept its way in the Stanley Cup Final by routing Carolina. And Vegas is up 3-1 on Dallas.
Either way it will be a final of Florida vs. Vegas or Dallas — not exactly a marketing bonanza.
What does all this prove? That one of sports fans’ favorite conspiracy refrains when their bet or favorite team loses is a bunch of balderdash.
But, like in many current aspects of life in the United States, don’t let facts interfere with an opinion or good story!
You know there are all sorts of leagues in sports — soccer, baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, cricket, pickleball, etc., etc., etc.
That’s what the National Thoroughbred League is forming, creating teams that will represent six areas: New York, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Seattle, Nashville and Philadelphia.
The NTL touts itself as “one of the first truly co-ed sports leagues, featuring both fillies and colts (as well as male and female jockeys), competing on the same teams at these multi-race competitions.”
The format will have horses from all six teams racing against each other, with points being awarded corresponding to the order of finish. The teams compete for the $1 million grand prize to the champion of the season.
Competition each weekend the league runs will be held at the same track, with the debut set for Sept. 2-3 — over the Labor Day holiday period — at Kentucky Downs. That’s Nashville’s “home” track, about 50 miles away in Franklin, Kentucky. (There are no thoroughbred tracks in Tennessee.)
The rest of the schedule:
Sept. 15-16: Seattle (Emerald Downs)
Oct. 13-14: New York and New Jersey (Meadowlands Racetrack)
Nov. 10-11: Los Angeles (Los Alamitos Race Course)
Dec. 30-31: Tampa, championship weekend (Tampa Bay Downs)
City pays off after slide
City SC, the local MLS expansion squad, returned to its winning ways last weekend and put those who have bet $100 on it to win each of its dozen matched back ahead by nearly a thousand bucks.
City is 7-4-1. But because it often was a substantial underdog in games it won — especially early on in its upstart role — those who backed the team with a hundred bucks and used the three-way line (which includes wagering on the game to end in a tie as well as to picking either team to win), now would be ahead by $977. That’s provided the bets were placed using the most favorable odds available among the three area walk-in sports book on the day before the match.
Last week the best number was at DraftKings (in East St. Louis), which had City at even money — meaning a $100 risk returned a $100 profit for the team’s 4-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City. That came after a swoon in which City had gone 1-4-1 following a 5-0-0 start. Before the slump those three-way line bettors had been ahead by $1,247.
The local club (now 7-4-1) is a small three-way line underdog for its home game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Minnesota (5-5-3). The most favorable odds as of Friday afternoon were +115, at DraftKings and Barstool (Argosy Casino in Alton).