The VICE Guide to Betting on Hockey
With the US Supreme Court effectively making sports gambling legal in all states, here's what you should know before you start betting on NHL games.
Photos by Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports, Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The United States Supreme Court on Monday effectively made sports gambling legal in all 50 states by striking down a federal ruling that made the practice illegal. This means you no longer have to travel to Las Vegas or dump money into a shady offshore account to bet on sports, assuming your state decides to let you gamble there.
While this is wonderful for degenerates like myself that can now drive an hour south to throw away money, this may be a confusing time for hockey fans who have never wagered on a game. How does it work? How do I win? If I start gambling on sports, do I have to leave my shirt unbuttoned and wear a gold chain while sitting in a sportsbook with a pencil behind my ear?
I'm glad you asked, because I'm here to help you understand betting on hockey.
Is it fair to say that since you're doing a guide to betting on hockey that you've won your fair share of bets on hockey?
I don't think I've ever won a hockey bet.
But you have an extensive history of it, right?
Pretty sure I did a three-team parlay when I was in Las Vegas at the start of the season that was ruined when the Kings lost in overtime to the Flames and there was an over/under bet a long time ago in which I bet the over and lost. That's it.
Were you at least close on the over bet?
The game was 0-0 after 65 minutes.
So what can you tell me about betting on hockey?
I much prefer betting on football and basketball because there are point spreads traditionally used by everyone and it's much easier to bet. Those sports also make it much easier to tease games, which is always fun. Hockey leaves you with a money line and a secondary line that's almost always +/- 1.5 that also comes with odds that vary based on the quality of the team. So if you bet Vikings -6.5 over the Bears, your odds are generally -110; but with hockey depending on the quality of team, you may get odds like +220 if you lay the 1.5 goals.
Is it like baseball?
Pretty much. Only in baseball, the starting pitcher has a heavy influence on the odds while in hockey the odds don't really fluctuate too much based on which goaltender starts, unless someone like Carey Price is out. And the way to win is by betting one team against the money line all season and hoping that team outperforms expectations of oddsmakers.
That sounds like a lot of work. What tips can you give me for a quick fix?
None, hockey is random and stupid and impossible to predict consistently so you have to play the long game.
Come on. What if I just kept betting money on the home team?
The road team has won more games than the home team this postseason.
What if I bet the favorites?
The Predators and Bruins were the favorites to win the Cup before the playoffs and they both lost in the second round.
So I should throw my money on the underdogs?
The eight teams with the worst odds were all gone by the end of the second round.
Why does anyone bet on hockey?
It's lost on me.
Well how about some advice on the rest of the playoffs? Should I put some money on Alex Ovechkin to win the Conn Smythe if I think the Capitals are winning the Cup?
You'd be throwing away your money.
But he has 10 goals in 15 games!
He sure does.
So Evgeny Kuznetsov then?
What? He has 20 points, is one point back of the leaders, who are both Penguins, and is tied for the most points of any remaining player!
So what's the problem?
Where in Canada were they born?
They weren't born in... ah.
So I should…
…throw your money on Braden Holtby, yeah.
But what if Nikita Kucherov has a—
Do you want my advice or not?
Fine, fine. Give me some real advice, damn it.
Don't talk to me like that. This is real advice. But here's a thing to look for—schedule losses. Find teams playing a third game in four nights, fourth game in six nights or sixth game in eight nights against a better-rested team. It's even better if the tired team is on the road. Then hammer that -1.5 line on the rested team and watch the money flow.
Why is every over/under between 5 and 6 goals?
Because 70 percent of NHL games are exactly the same no matter who plays. Think of NHL games as Subway franchises. No matter where you go, your sandwich will be the same bland meal. Sure, maybe you'll stumble upon one where the bread is slightly fresher or they load you up on olives, but otherwise you can expect the same 3-2 game all the time and good luck figuring out which one will have the extra olives.
Do you think we'll be able to bet on hockey at the games?
Really? That seems like the last thing the NHL would do.
Oh, sorry. Yes, in 2056.
That's hockey. But hockey arenas all do 50/50 raffles so maybe they'll do it right away if teams can take a percentage of the wager and direct it toward a charity. If fans are willing to pay a little extra for their bet in the building, then it will happen faster. Imagine it like an ATM fee when it's not your bank. "Do you accept a $1 fee to support The Troops?" You bet you do, just as much as you support the Hurricanes -1.5 against the Sabres.
OK, so now that wagering on hockey is legal, shouldn't the NHL be worried about games being fixed?
You don't think it's possible for a game to be fixed?
Tell me how you would notice.
OK, what if it was a playoff game, right? And out of nowhere, a game was refereed so poorly and inconsistently compared to the rest of the series or playoffs or even regular season. What if officials were out there ignoring penalties and randomly calling them at other times, thus influencing the outcome of the game in a potentially nefarious way?
How would that be different than any other game?
Shit, I didn't think of that.
If anything, maybe the specter of games being fixed forces referees to call games more consistently as to avoid the potentially bad optics of, say, Brad Marchand being slashed on the hands and losing the puck on a potentially game-tying breakaway in the final minutes of a playoff game and having a referee look right at it and not call anything. Maybe a penalty will always be a penalty no matter what. But this is the NHL, so I doubt this ruling will change that.
So if I bet on a game, I can't be guaranteed a consistently officiated game?
And a referee could cost me thousands of dollars?
Why would anyone bet on this sport?
Again, I honestly have no idea.