- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declared the regular season over on May 26 in his announcement of the return to play format for the league.
- The NHL halted play in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Sportsbooks initially waited on the league to make an announcement before grading divisional title props.
When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the regular season was over as part of the league’s return to play strategy sportsbooks were able to grade outstanding futures and prop bets. Over/Under total points prop bets were refunded by all six of the Nevada sportsbooks open at the time regardless of the team’s actual points total. Most house rules specify that a team must play a specific number of games–in the NHL 81 or 82 games is most common–for a wager to be valid. Some players caught a break on wagers of this type, other players got a tough break but if nothing else refunding bets is a fair and uniform decision.
Some sportsbooks also immediately refunded prop bets on teams to make the playoffs and win their divisional title. This was of particular consternation in the Las Vegas market where local fans had a lot of tickets riding on the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Pacific Division. Here’s how Westgate VP of Risk Ed Salmons explained the situation that Southern Nevada’s NHL team was in at the time of the stoppage:
“They were going to go under their point total, but were in good position to win their division. They were three points up on Edmonton with 11 games to go, though (Max) Pacioretty and (Mark) Stone were out with injuries at the time the games were shut down.”
Unfortunately for Golden Knights fans, Westgate as well as MGM Resorts have similar ‘must play a specified number of games’ verbiage in their sportsbook house rules:
SOME SPORTSBOOKS DON’T REQUIRE A SPECIFIC NUMBER OF GAMES BE PLAYED ON FUTURES PROPS
Over the past week, patrons of Caesars Entertainment and William Hill’s Nevada sportsbooks have received some much needed good news. Both sportsbooks have decided to pay out on all divisional title futures market wagers. Both sportsbooks initially left these bets pending but decided to pay winners since their house rules didn’t require that 81 or 82 games be played. They have house rules that stipulate futures bets will be paid as long as a winner is declared. Here’s the wording from the William Hill Nevada House Rules:
FUTURE WAGERS are “action” as long as a winner is officially declared, regardless of team relocation, name change, league affiliation, playoff format, season length, etc.
There was initially some confusion about the ‘winner officially declared’ proviso. In theory, the decision would hinge on the National Hockey League’s definition of divisional title winner. If the teams leading the division at the time of the shutdown were considered by the league to have won the division, the sportsbooks would pay. Otherwise, the futures bets would be refunded. Here’s how William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich explained it:
“We’re trying to get the full official statement from the NHL on division winners. The NHL has to recognize them as the division champions. They didn’t address the division champions, specifically.”
The NHL never actually provided the guidance on the topic of divisional winners so the sportsbooks made their own decision. William Hill was first to act last Thursday, grading the teams in first place at the time play was suspended as divisional winners but also refunding wagers on second place teams. Once again Nick Bogdonavich explained his shop’s rationale:
“We didn’t have a stipulation on the number of games so we just thought, in fairness to everyone, that would be the best solution. It’s a goofy time. There’s not enough rules to cover everything.”
Earlier this week, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that Caesars Entertainment’s Nevada books had done the same thing paying off the first place teams and refunding second place teams. Caesars Director of Trading Jeff Davis gave the logic:
“Given that the NHL has declared the regular season complete, we felt it was correct to pay out on the teams that were leading their respective divisions at the time of the completion of the regular season.”
As Bogdonavich noted ‘there’s not enough rules to cover everything’. When this circumstance occurs, sportsbooks are then left with a tough decision. Obviously, Golden Knights backers who held tickets from the Westgate or MGM Resorts would have liked to have cashed them but based on the house rules of both companies the decision to refund futures bets was appropriate. At the same time, credit to William Hill and Caesars for grading the divisional futures markets. Ultimately, players would prefer to have a verdict on all bets provided that any ambiguity is decided fairly. Since both William Hill and Caesars had wiggle room to refund their bets (since no divisional winner was ‘officially’ named) it’s great to see them making this decision.