Kings’ Ransom: Surprising Sacramento Schools Sportsbooks

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Heading into the 2022-2023 NBA season, America’s major mobile sportsbooks expected the Sacramento Kings to continue being the Sacramento Kings, setting their season wins total at 33.5 and assigning them odds of anywhere from 250/1 to 500/1 to win a stacked Pacific Division.

But some bettors knew better.

Last summer, a Caesars Sportsbook bettor in Nevada placed a $10,000 wager on the Kings to win the NBA title at odds of 750/1 — and then followed that up with an $8,000 bet on the same result at 350/1. At the time, these futures seemed akin to letting the Vegas desert heat incinerate $18,000 worth of cash. But now, with the Kings locked into the third seed in what promises to be a wide-open Western Conference playoffs, that bold bettor has a very real chance of becoming $10 million richer.

Caesars and other sportsbooks won’t have to wait until June to experience a brutal hangover on account of the Kings, however. In fact, that reckoning should happen this week, with the Kings either a win or a Phoenix loss away from clinching the Pacific.

Comparing the Kings’ division title odds to those of Florida Atlantic making the Final Four, Jay Kornegay of the SuperBook said last week, “This year I know a lot of books have liability attached to the Sacramento Kings winning their division. They were 500/1 to win the division. We had them at 300/1. There were a couple nibbles at 300/1 and, yes, we are going to lose on the Kings to win the division.”

At BetRivers, a spokesperson for that sportsbook told US Bets, “The Kings to win the Pacific will be the most profitable NBA season-long futures market to the public.”

Massive drought, ray of light

It’s easy to see why oddsmakers had the Kings pegged to finish last in the Pacific. For starters, Sacramento’s rivals in that division are the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers — all of which were among the favorites to win the NBA title heading into the season.

Then there was the fact that the Kings hadn’t made the playoffs in 16 years — the longest dry spell in professional sports. To put that drought in perspective, we’ll simply reprint what Defector had to say after the Kings clinched a postseason berth with a 40-point win over Portland on Wednesday:

The last time the Sacramento Kings made the playoffs, the Great Recession was still 18 months away. The Nets still played in New Jersey, the Sonics still played in Seattle, and the Thrashers still played in Atlanta. Global sea levels were about seven centimeters lower. The Kings’ next playoff game will be as far from their last playoff game as their last playoff game was from the Tiananmen Square massacre. Sixteen empty seasons, one abortive relocation effort, and 13 coaches later, the longest postseason absence in major American sports is over. The Sacramento Kings are going back to the playoffs.

What was known prior to the start of the regular season was that the Kings had two very good players in De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and one serviceable veteran in Harrison Barnes. Prospects for the rest of Sacramento’s roster ranged from downright bleak to unknown — and, in this instance, there’s been power in not knowing.

Fox and Sabonis have matured into stars, while Barnes has been his usual steady self. The other three Kings averaging double-digit scoring — sharpshooter Kevin Huerter, sixth man Malik Monk, and rookie Keegan Murray — are new acquisitions, and Trey Lyles, Terence Davis, and Davion Mitchell have been surprisingly productive off the bench. Add it all up and you have a supremely endearing team — one that lights a beam after every win — that’s poised to score more regular-season points (121 per game) than any NBA squad has notched in 40 years.

Mezie does the honors and LIGHTS THE BEAM! #KingsFTW | @Chimezie_Metu

— X – Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) November 18, 2022

From paupers to princes

While Caesars awaits the fate of the summer Sacramento backer’s wild wagers, it is on the hook for an almost-clinched $81,000 payout to a Pennsylvanian who bet $1,000 on the Kings to win the Pacific in November at odds of 80/1. The Kings are also a liability at BetMGM, where 27% of the bets and 54% of the money — tops by either standard — have been placed on Sacramento to win the Pacific.

A DraftKings bettor who got down on the Kings to win the Pacific at 9/1 odds on Thanksgiving Day will soon be owed $23,400, while BetRivers will have to pay $12,500 to an account holder who put $50 on the Kings to win the division at 250/1 and another $33,492 to a Kings backer who more recently wagered $8,815 at +380 odds.

One retail sportsbook that didn’t get schooled on Sacramento was The Book at Baldini’s on the outskirts of Reno.

“Perhaps because Sacramento is but two hours away from us, we’ve had them in direct sight all season long,” said Robert Kowalski, Baldini’s sportsbook director. “We are winners to the Kings for the division, conference, and league. Yes, we did have a few tickets at 125/1 to win the title, but even with that we are going to win the outrights pool here at Baldini’s. 

“The Kings opened 350/1 to win the Pacific. I was really pre-biased to get a tidal wave of Warriors futures, which we did, and then another huge wave came in on the Suns to win the division when they traded for [Kevin] Durant. For extra measure, I even took wagers on the Clippers to win the Pacific when they acquired [Russell] Westbrook.”

In summing up the Sacramento miracle, Kowalski said, “Looks like the turtle is quietly going to win the race over all of them.”

Will teams tank to face Kings?

About to be freshly crowned, the Kings nevertheless find themselves right back where they started the season when it comes to how oddsmakers view their playoff prospects in the Pacific pecking order. They’re 40/1 to win the NBA title and 16/1 to win the West at WynnBET — longer odds than all four of the division rivals who will finish beneath them in the regular-season standings.

“All of these other teams are all trying to figure out how to keep their stars healthy, so there’s a little bit of a different strategy. They’re not as concerned with the regular season,” said Matt Lindeman, WynnBET’s associate director of trading. “I think the Kings have been the biggest beneficiary of that. I think we’re going to see a different brand of ball in the playoffs that doesn’t favor the Kings’ style. Theirs is not exactly a lockdown defense.”

While WynnBET opted not to offer futures markets for division winners this season, it just rolled out a market for “who will be the 6th seed in the Western Conference,” with the Warriors favored at +250, followed by the Clippers, Pelicans, and Lakers at 3/1. The specter of teams seed-hunting — or “micro-tanking” — in the final game or two to draw the inexperienced Kings in the first round “was our entire reason for creating this market,” said Lindeman.

“It’s a very unique kind of game theory situation where you’ve got this very clear overachiever in the West that’s not exactly the same caliber of these teams below them who’ve had to battle through injuries,” explained Lindeman. “You run the risk of falling into that seventh spot, so there’s a lot of danger tanking into that sixth seed. It will be fascinating to see these teams do this dance down the stretch, jockeying for position.”

Photo: Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales