Beating the odds in Vegas: Former Winnipegger's bets on Jets, Golden Knights may just pay off
'Millions of dollars' at stake in betting industry as former longshots close in on the Stanley Cup
As a server at Rae & Jerry's Steakhouse when the original Jets played nearby at the former Winnipeg Arena, Shannon Yelland became enamoured with the passion of hockey fans in the Manitoba capital.
She said she lost her own love of NHL hockey after she moved to Vancouver in 1991 and heard fans boo the hometown Canucks.
Now based in Las Vegas, she's a hockey fan once more. The arrival of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 gave her an excuse to buy some tickets, she said, while the mass shooting on The Vegas Strip last fall gave the team and the community even more of a sense of purpose, she added.
"I decided to go make the bets because I believed in these two teams," the 49-year-old former Winnipegger said Tuesday at her residence near Red Rock Canyon, illuminated by the late-evening desert sun.
"For the week after I was proud of it and I was excited," she recalled. "I was actually pooh-poohed a lot because people were saying, 'Why did you pick two underdogs?' Well, I believe in this."
Back in October, the odds of the Jets winning the Cup this season were 60 to one. The Jets didn't make the playoffs the previous year and had not won so much as a single playoff game in their current incarnation.
The odds of the Golden Knights winning the Cup, back in October, were 200 to one. As an expansion team, Vegas was expected to be one of the worst squads in the NHL before the season started.
Now, as Vegas and Winnipeg are both three wins away from playing in the Stanley Cup final, no one is pooh-poohing Shannon Yelland's pair of bets.
She stands to enjoy a $1,200 US payday if the Jets win the Cup in June, or $4,000 if Vegas pulls off the feat.
She's not alone, as there are enough bets on the Golden Knights to make the Las Vegas sports-book industry nervous.
"It's certainly been discussed over the course of the season," said Jay Kornegay, vice-president of race and sports operations at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino. "We have some places that are going to lose seven figures.
"Most of us are in that half-a-million to a million-dollar range. So you are talking millions of dollars."
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Kornegay said his own casino faces some exposure to a Vegas cup victory.
"Our biggest one out there is someone bet $400 at 300-to-one that will pay $120,000," he said.
"I haven't talked to that person yet. I don't know who that is, but I thought he might come in and maybe even hedge at some point in time or kind of brag about his ticket, because some of them do when they have those type of odds.
"Maybe he doesn't want to jinx himself."
In spite of the potential losses, Vegas bookmakers are still cheering for the Golden Knights, Kornegay said.
"I do have a little mixed emotions going, but you know, I'm going to put my fan hat on first and most of us around the town, [us] sports books, are rooting for the Knights," he said.
"Business will take care of itself. We're going to be fine. It's going to be a big hit, though, if they do hoist the Cup in Las Vegas. But we're still rooting for them."
Yelland said she, too, has divided loyalties between her hometown team and the team playing in her new home. But she's a little more certain about what she will do if either the Jets or Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup.
"I may put it back into hockey tickets," she said. "I don't have tons of disposable income. I probably spent $4,000 on hockey tickets this season. I wanted to experience centre ice, club seats, [so] I would probably put the winnings back into hockey tickets for next season."