Why Las Vegas Needs the Chicago Cubs to Lose Tonight

Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates with fans after clinching their wildcard playoff position at Wrigley Field on Sept. 26, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates with fans after clinching their wildcard playoff position at Wrigley Field on Sept. 26, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

Photographer: Jon Durr/Getty Images
  • Sports books gave 40-to-1 odds on the Cubs to win World Series
  • Chicago is typically one of the most-bet teams in baseball

The failure of the Chicago Cubs to win a World Series in more than 100 years of trying has nonetheless endeared them to fans — and to Las Vegas’ sports books.

Each year the Cubs are among the baseball’s most-bet teams. Long-shot World Series odds -- as wide as 60-1 at some books this season -- don’t deter bettors from offering money that the 106-year drought, fueled by the Curse of the Billy Goat, will finally end. 

In each of the past six seasons, sports books have pocketed that money before the playoffs began. As the Cubs prepare to face division-rival Pittsburgh Pirates tonight in the one-game Wild Card round, oddsmakers are getting nervous.

"We have liability on the Cubs every single year," said Jay Kornegay, head oddsmaker at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, where bettors could take 40-to-1 odds on the Cubs to win the World Series before the baseball season began. "This year is no different -- it’s just that the Cubs are actually in the playoffs."

At online sports book Bovada.lv, the Cubs were the most-bet team all season and represented about 26 percent of the total World Series action, according to book manager Kevin Bradley. The numbers are similar at the MGM Resorts International, where Chicago had double the amount of bets as the next closest team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and also the most money behind them. MGM sports book director Jay Rood said there’s more liability than in years past because the team is better.

Similar to gamblers’ unyielding support of golfer Tiger Woods -- who is backed no matter how poorly he plays -- Upper Midwestern teams like the Cubs, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings often receive steady annual support, according to Kornegay. He said that if the Cubs don’t lead baseball in overall tickets, they’re always top five.

"You look at the ticket count and every year it looks like the Cubs just signed the three biggest free agents," he said. "They may not wager gigantic amounts, but they support the team in droves, and those small tickets tend to add up over time."

The Cubs haven’t won a playoff series since 2003, the year a fan interfered with the most famous foul ball in baseball history. In the 11 years after, the team had more last-place finishes (three) than playoff berths (two).

The winner of tonight’s game will move on to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the best-of-five National League Divisional Series.

In the 12 months ended Aug. 31, Nevada sports books won $34 million on $847 million in baseball wagers, a hold percentage of about 4 percent, according to the state’s Gaming Control Board. Football earns the most money for the sports books, which won about $88 million on college and professional games in the last 12 months; basketball is the most profitable, with a hold percentage of 5.6 percent on $1.2 billion wagered.

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