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'Kind of Letting It Play Out'

Jay Kornegay is one of the few people on the planet who can say he’s cheered for every professional sports team and not be ridiculed for being a bandwagon fan. See, as the longtime boss of the SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas, Kornegay has spent the last three decades pulling for whatever teams the house needs to finish the day/week/month/year in the black.

Sure, as a lifelong fan of Denver’s pro teams (particularly the NFL’s Broncos), the Colorado native has found himself yanking on both sides of the rope in his own professional/personal tug-of-war. But those conflicts have been rare. Then the Vegas Golden Knights were born, Kornegay went in with a friend on season tickets, and his adopted hometown’s new team started winning … and winning … and winning — often at the expense of his sportsbook’s bottom line.

Now, as the Knights prepare to resume their ridiculously improbable inaugural season Thursday when they host the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals, Kornegay’s internal tug-of-war has gotten a lot more vexing: With 12 more victories, the Golden Knights — who have already rewritten the expansion-team record books — would hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. It would be one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of professional team sports … and result in a financial bloodbath for the city’s sportsbooks, Kornegay’s included.

“My colleagues around town, we’re friends and competitors,” Kornegay says. “We golf together, we go out to dinner together, our wives get together. And we’re all just kind of shaking our heads, saying, ‘This is unbelievable!’ And it’s led to mixed emotions. For those who have very strong ties to their hometowns — whether it’s Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York — it’s easier to root against the Knights. Whereas some of the others who don’t have strong ties to their childhood teams have had a more difficult time rooting against the Knights. And I certainly fit into that (latter) group.

“But if (the Knights) win the whole thing, the books are going to take a financial hit. So we’re just kind of letting it play out.”

The Westgate SuperBook is traditionally the first shop in town to post “futures” odds for the upcoming season in all sports. So last May — while the NHL playoffs were ongoing and the Knights were more than a month away from even compiling a roster — Kornegay’s crew released the Stanley Cup odds for the 2017-18 season. As expected, the new franchise was the longest shot to win the title, at 300-1. But after weeks went by and he took just a few wagers on Vegas, Kornegay raised it to 500-1.

Those odds remained unchanged when the Knights debuted on October 6 with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory at Dallas, followed by another 2-1 win — this one in overtime at Arizona — the next night. The surprising 2-0 start, along with the strong community bond that rapidly formed in the wake of the October 1 tragedy, led to a small line forming at the SuperBook’s counter.

Between October 4-8, Kornegay says 13 customers walked away with tickets on the Knights to win the Cup at 500-1. “So before their first home game on October 10, we dropped them back down to 300-1 and took four wagers. Then we moved to 200-1, and that’s where the bulk of the liability took place: We took 57 wagers on the Knights at 200-1.” (The largest bet his book accepted at 500-1? Sixty dollars, to win $30,000.)

Kornegay, who attended about 20 regular-season games at T-Mobile Arena, says that even as his new favorite team stunned the hockey world by winning seven of its first eight contests, there was little faith among his colleagues — or, for that matter, sharp professional bettors — that the Knights’ success was sustainable. “Even though we knew they were going to be better than most previous expansion teams — and maybe even the best (ever) — our expectations were very, very low,” he says. “We certainly did not think they were going to make the playoffs or even finish close to .500.”

Much to the delight of Kornegay the fan, that assumption was dead wrong. Much to the chagrin of Kornegay the oddsmaker, the betting public continued to flock to his and other sportsbooks to wager on the Knights, both on a game-by-game basis and to win the Cup. Even as the Knights’ Cup odds plummeted — Vegas is currently co-favorites with the Nashville Predators at 4-1 — the money kept pouring in.

Now, the entire community is holding out hope for 12 more victories — but none more so than those holding a Knights-to-win-it-all ticket. “As we stand right now,” Kornegay says, “we have a healthy six-figure liability on the Knights, as many other books do — and some around town have a seven-figure liability.”

So what’s a Knights fan/sportsbook boss to do? Continue to wear both hats simultaneously, and let the betting slips fall where they may.

“When I’m at the games, I am rooting for the Knights no matter what,” says Kornegay, who is set to attend two of the Knights’ four scheduled home games against the Sharks and is scrambling to secure tickets to the other two. “But is it in the back of my mind that the book can take a hit if they win? Absolutely.

“With me, it’s always business first. But I also know that business will take care of itself over the long haul, so I can still be a Knights fan.”

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