The Western Conference finals don’t tip off until Monday, but one Las Vegas sportsbook is already paying out bets on the Golden State Warriors.
The owner of that casino? Tilman Fertitta, who also owns the Houston Rockets.
Fertitta purchased the Rockets for $2.2 billion in September. He also owns the Golden Nugget casino in downtown Las Vegas.
After the sale, the Golden Nugget sportsbook followed normal gaming procedure and halted all NBA futures bets that involved the Rockets in an effort to eliminate any concerns over conflicts of interest.
The sportsbook then removed the Rockets from the list of teams available to bet and reposted odds on the team to “finish best” in the Western Conference and the NBA Finals.
With Houston not offered, the Warriors have already finished best in the Western Conference at the Nugget, and anyone who bet Golden State may proceed to the cashier’s window, even though the series hasn’t started.
“We’ve already graded [the Warriors] a winner,” Golden Nugget sportsbook manager Aaron Kessler said. “Bring your ticket and you’ll get paid.”
The Nugget did not accept any bets on Houston games this season and will not be taking any on the highly anticipated Western Conference finals. Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller said he is asked almost daily at this point: ‘Why can’t I bet the Rockets?’
“It’s crazy,” Miller said on a Friday morning appearance on the Vegas Stats & Information Network. “Two great teams in the Western Conference finals, and we’re doing more explaining every day than anything else.”
It’s common practice in Nevada for sportsbooks not to accept wagers on teams with any potential ownership conflicts. Caesars Palace sportsbooks stopped taking bets on the Boston Celtics, after executive Gary Loveman took an ownership position with the team in 2006. Station Casinos didn’t take bets on UFC events, until Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta sold the organization in September.
Now, it’s cousin Tilman Fertitta with a stake in both a sportsbook and a sports franchise. And if Fertitta’s Rockets advance to the Finals, his team will cost his sportsbook business.
The Golden Nugget won’t be able to book the Finals if the Rockets come out of the West, and any futures bets on the Eastern Conference representative — either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Celtics — will be deemed winners.
Asked if he was rooting against the owner of the casino’s team, Kessler answered with a laugh, “How can I frame this so it’s not going to get me in trouble?”
“It would be decent handle in a slow month, but it’s not going to kills us if we don’t book [the Finals],” Kessler said. “We’d still have baseball, and we still have the [Vegas Golden] Knights.”