The Las Vegas Golden Knights' unbelievable run has captured the attention of not only sports fans but gambling enthusiasts. The Knights run to the Stanley Cup finals in their first season has shocked spectators - and put bookmakers on edge.
The team started the season with odds as high as 500-1 to take home Lord Stanley’s cup, one of the longest odds for any NHL team. If Vegas, the the favourites to win the Stanley Cup, defeats the Washington Capitals, sportsbooks would be down millions.
Compounding things further is the upstart squads’ home. Resident NHL bettors in Las Vegas, where gambling was legalized long before the rest of the United States, placed what many would consider novelty bets on their new home team.
Even though many Vegas-based bookmakers are outwardly rooting for the Knights, they have to be worried about a potential huge loss compounded by a larger-than-usual number of bettors to wager on such a long shot.
Even if they pull off the unthinkable with a championship in their first season, the Knights still wouldn’t have the record for longest odds for a title-winning team. Here are five longshots that won championships in their respective sports with even less of a chance from bookies.
This epic comeback may not be on the forefront of the minds of American sports fans but it still holds a special spot for English cricketers more than 25 years later.
The Ashes, a prestigious series of cricket matches between rival powers England and Australia, had already been played for nearly 100 years by the time the two national teams faced off in 1981. Australia jumped out to a huge lead in the first two tests of the series, which led bookmakers to jump odds all the way up to 500-1 for bettors predicting what seemed to be an increasingly unlikely comeback.
Instead, England won three-straight tests, thanks to an all-time performance from England’s Ian Botham. No team had come back from a similar deficit since 1894. Among the winning bettors were Australian team players. Two players placed bets with English bookmaker Ladbrokes totaling £15, which netted £7,500.
Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins had an even larger hill to climb on its quest for a championship. After a 71-91 finish in 1986, oddsmakers were not bullish on the Twins doing much better heading into the new season. Fortunately for the team’s fans, and baseball betting enthusiasts audacious enough to take Vegas’ 500-1 odds, the Twins didn’t settle for mediocrity.
Led by future hall of famer Kirby Puckett and first-year manager Tom Kelly, Minnesota won the American League’s West Division by two games then defeated the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. The Twins finished off the turnaround season with a 4-3 series win in the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals would be on the right side of long odds a few decades later, completing a run that was even less likely than that of their ’87 World Series nemesis. Down four-and-a-half games with only 15 games to play, St. Louis went 11-4 and leapfrogged the Atlanta Braves on the season’s final day to clinch the National League wild card slot.
The Cardinals then went on to upset the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS, the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS and finally the Texas Rangers in the World Series. The Cardinals game seven victory capped off an amazing stretch of baseball from August 24 onward when St. Louis was 10-and-a-half games back and nearly everyone, including Vegas bookmakers, counted them out.
One of the most famous upsets of all time was also one of the most shocking surprises for bookmakers. The story of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team is part of American sporting lore. A rag-tag group of amateurs came together to upset a group of professionals from the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the tournament and then beat Finland for the gold medal.
The upset over the heavily favored USSR was just part of the story. The Russians were coming off four-consecutive Olympic gold medals and had smashed the U.S. team 10-3 in an exhibition just weeks before they met in the official tournament. Combined with the political rivalry between the two global super powers, the United States’ amazing victory over the Soviets quickly became an iconic moment for Americans.
The U.S. win in the “Miracle on Ice” might be the first thing Americans think of when it comes to greatest sports longshots, but oddsmakers across the pond will likely disagree. English Premier League soccer side Leicester City didn’t pull of an upset in a single game or series. In 2016, the Foxes put together an upset across a 38-game EPL season unlike any ever seen.
Leicester City wasn’t even in the top flight of English soccer in 2014. In 2015 the side was almost sent back down to the second tier again. Not surprisingly, British bookmakers gave Leicester little chance of taking home the championship. Leading bookies like William Hill gave better odds to Elvis being found alive or the U.S. government announcing it faked landing on the moon.
Instead of another finish near the bottom of the table, the Foxes went on an unbelievable run. Behind leading goal scorers Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Leicester lost only once in its last 20 matches, cruising to the top of the EPL table and finishing the season with a 10-point lead in the standings over second-place Arsenal.
William Hill’s comically large odds came back to bite them. Though only 25 people took the bookmakers’ odds, William Hill had to pay out more than £3 million on that bet alone. One of those bettors was Leigh Herbert, whose £3 wager landed him £15,000. Bookies had to pay out an estimated £15 million, or $22 million, overall.
The stunning win changed the face of betting forever. According to an article in Forbes, this was the first time in more than 82 years that William Hill paid out on odds that long. A company spokesperson said it may be just as long till anyone has to pay off those odds again.