NBA, NHL, and Belmont (6/3/14)

By Dave Tuley
Tuesday, June 3

LAS VEGAS – This is usually the time of year when the sports books here go through the dog days of summer with just the most die-hard baseball bettors and horseplayers scattered around the otherwise empty rooms.

The kids are getting out of school this week and the temperatures have hit 100 degrees here in the desert, but we're far from the dog days of summer – at least this year. We still have the NHL and NBA championships to be decided, starting Wednesday and Thursday night, respectively, as well as California Chrome trying to complete horse racing's Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday and then the World Cup starting next week. But let's stick to this week's marquee events and give you the view from Vegas.

NBA Finals

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have a rematch of last year's finals when the Heat won their second straight title in a seven game series, winning Game 7 at home. This year, the Spurs have home-court advantage (which they had in all four years they've won titles).

When the matchup was determined last Saturday night with the Spurs' 112-107 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the LVH SuperBook made the series a pick-em at -110 for both teams. Most other Vegas books went with the Spurs -120 and the Heat even money and saw early money come in on the Spurs to push it to a consensus Spurs -130/Heat +110 as of early Tuesday morning.

The Spurs have also been getting early support in Thursday night's Game 1 as they opened as a 3.5-point home favorite at the majority of books in town, but as of early Tuesday morning was pretty much up to a 4-point favorite with Station Casinos being the last book to hold the line at 3.5. The over/under looks like it is settling at 198.5.

Underdogs and overs have dominated so far in the NBA playoffs as dogs are 51-31-1 ATS (62.2%) overall, though the Heat and Spurs helped faves go 9-3 ATS in the conference finals. Overs are 49-35 (58.3%) overall, though they were split 6-6 in the last round.

But even though underdogs have done great on a game-to-game basis, the Heat and Spurs were their conferences' favorites to get here. At the start of the playoffs, the Heat were the odds-on 5-8 favorite (-160 expressed as a money line) favorite to win the East despite being the No. 2 seed behind the Pacers, while the Spurs were the 5-4 fave to come out of the West.

NHL Stanley Cup Finals

While the NBA played to form in getting the two best teams to the finals, the NHL playoffs produced two relative surprises in the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, though anyone watching the playoffs isn't surprised both these teams made it through. At the start of the playoffs, the Rangers were the co-third choice at 8-1 to win the Eastern Conference while the Kings were the 7-1 sixth choice in the Western Conference.

Despite being the longer shot, the Kings (who won the title two years ago) are now a -175 favorite to hoist Lord Stanley's cup once again and a -155 home fave in Wednesday night's Game 1. The over/under is set at 5 and shaded to -120 on the under, although overs have dominated even more in the NHL playoffs than in the NBA as overs are 47-27-14 (63.5%) overall and haven't slowed down the deeper we've gone in the playoffs as they were 8-3-2 last round.

Belmont Stakes

While those series are just starting, horse racing wraps up its series for 3-year-olds called the Triple Crown this Saturday in the Belmont.

California Chrome has rolled to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and now attempts to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed all the way back in 1978. Since then, 12 horses have won the first two legs only to come up short of pulling off the feat (two years ago, I'll Have Another was scratched a day before the Belmont).

As I wrote about five weeks ago in our Kentucky Derby preview here at, California Chrome was +800 (odds of 8-1, though he was bet down to 7-1 before race day) to win the Triple Crown at the Wynn Las Vegas sports book, the lowest price by far for any individual horse. The prop for “any horse” to win the Triple Crown was +650, so there are plenty of bettors already with a rooting interest.

California Chrome is also picking up plenty of supporters along the way and it's going to be very interesting to see what his morning-line odds will be when the field is drawn on Wednesday. There are plenty of people saying he's way ahead of the rest of the class as he's beaten most of the horses he's expected to face Saturday and that they expect him to go off around the same 1-2 price that he was in the Preakness. However, I'm not sure he'll be that low, maybe closer to 4-5.

After the Preakness, John Avello at the Wynn made California Chrome -120 (odds of 5-6) to win the Belmont and instead of dropping, his price actually rose over even money and got as high as +115. When I posted that at and on Twitter, I had people saying that was too high and that he's going to go off much lower (to them, I say they should have been making a trek to Vegas to take the supposedly generous price because if they're right that California Chrome will eventually be 1-2, which is -200 as a money line, then they will eventually be able to take +170 or so against CC and could have locked in a guaranteed profit). But we'll see if that proves to be the case.

As of late Monday, California Chrome was still being offered at even money to win the Belmont in the Wynn future book with his top contenders being Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong at 6-1, new shooter (meaning he didn't run in the Derby or Preakness) Tonalist at 7-1, Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin at 7-1 and Derby runner-up Commanding Curve at 8-1. The Wynn also has a Triple Crown “yes/no” prop with the “yes” at -105 and the no at -115 (after being bet as high as -130). Note: Avello is charging the extra nickel on the “yes” for the TC prop because it's a refund if California Chrome doesn't start whereas the straight future-book bet is a loss if he scratches (which again was the case two years ago with I'll Have Another).

A word to the wise guy: if betting any Belmont/Triple Crown props, be sure to be fully aware of the house rules.

Good luck with all your wagers this week (and every week).

Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper and then for Daily Racing Form. Tuley started his own website,, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including and In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 47, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.