AP Photo/J Pat Carter
Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Steve Fezzik may be a big-time professional sports bettor, but the two-time winner of the Las Vegas Hilton’s annual football handicapping contest is no fan of the National Basketball Association. The traditional 82-game season’s too long, he says, leaving players prone to exhaustion and injury and, in turn, causing the fortunes of individual teams to be too up and down.
So Fezzik is not planning to spend a lot of time handicapping the games Sunday when the NBA opens its lockout-delayed season. That said, he is excited about the long-awaited Christmas Day opening of the NBA season following a nearly five-month work stoppage.
“I’m a mercenary. If nothing else, I’m excited because it distracts the oddsmakers and the bettors by having another sport out there,” he said. “I can speak for most serious bettors; we are not (NBA) fans. We don’t like the players. I don’t really like the game.”
The league’s opening-day schedule is filled with a feast of roundball, with many of the NBA’s highest-profile franchises — the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and champion Dallas Mavericks, among them — playing five games from morning to evening, all of which are set to air on ABC, ESPN or TNT.
The work stoppage, which began in early July and ended late last month, may have cost Las Vegas casinos some revenue, with men’s professional basketball generating about 15 percent of the money passing through the city’s sports books, although it’s difficult to truly determine the financial bite of the labor dispute. After all, a significant number of NBA-starved bettors may have simply increased the amount of money they’ve wagered on other sports, particularly professional and college football.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a significant number, but whenever you lose 15 percent of your sales it’s going to translate to a dent in your book,” said Jay Kornegay, sports book director for the Las Vegas Hilton.
The NBA’s typical schedule, which normally begins in late October, has been reduced to 66 games to begin the league’s postseason playoffs by mid-April. That means teams will routinely play games on three consecutive nights, a particularly grueling schedule for players subjected to the pounding of the hardwood floor, collisions with powerful competitors and strains of cross-country travel.
“I don’t think anyone is completely geeked out that the NBA is back,” said Jay Rood, vice president of MGM Mirage race and sports books. “There are a few people who fall under that category, but most people are approaching it with curiosity to see how it plays out, especially the back-to-back-to-back games.”
Most of the city’s major sports books had yet to set the betting lines for Sunday’s games late last week. There was a great deal of uncertainty because of abbreviated training camps and an expedited pre-season schedule. Plus, injuries have taken a toll even before the first tip-off. Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant tore a ligament in his right wrist during a recent preseason game, and it was uncertain whether he would play in the opener against the Chicago Bulls.
Octogenerian bettor Lem Banker said that although he’d “never had a losing season with the NBA,” he wasn’t feeling bad about the season being delayed.
“Missed it? Not really,” Banker said. “There were too many other things going on.”