The Empire Slate: Bookmakers Don’t React Much to Kyrie News Thursday

Unvaccinated Nets star is cleared to play in home games, but sportsbooks anticipated as much
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“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.

Saying he was “not elected to be fearful,” Mayor Eric Adams issued an executive order Thursday exempting New York City-based professional athletes and performers from the private sector COVID-19 vaccine mandate, immediately boosting the fortunes of the city’s sports teams.

It could come just in time for the Brooklyn Nets, who have been without unvaccinated superstar Kyrie Irving in home games and are still fighting to secure a spot in the playoffs.

The Nets’ futures odds at the state’s online sportsbooks, however, barely budged.

At DraftKings, the Nets’ title odds went from +475 to +450. Their odds to win the East went from +475 to +450. At WynnBet, Thursday’s move produced no line changes on Nets futures (they’re tied with Golden State as the second choice at +600 to win it all) and, in fact, that book is more interested in Ben Simmons’ status.

“Ben Simmons’ health will be key in determining a move,” said senior trading manager Alan Berg. “We might make a small adjustment soon.”

Similarly, FanDuel’s futures prices on the Nets didn’t budge, staying at +500 to win it all, with the sportsbook telling NY Online Gambling its oddsmakers had anticipated Irving being able to play in all games at some point soon.

Sportsbooks follow health news closely

FanDuel wasn’t the only sportsbook that had long expected New York to ease its COVID rules, and even without Irving for home games, Brooklyn might have been favored in any playoff series it played.

The primary gambling impact of Thursday’s announcement was to make anyone who already had a ticket on one of the New York teams’ futures feel better about their chances.

“This is a fresh Kyrie Irving who has played 20 games all year. This is certainly going to make a big impact,” said Johnny Avello, director of DraftKings’ race and sportsbook. “The way I look at the East is you have the Heat having a really good season, the 76ers having a good season, and the Bucks always seeming to have good seasons. The Celtics have been the hottest team in the East of late. But the Nets at full force are going to compete with all these teams and they’re going to be favored daily.”

The lack of appreciable line moves also speaks to the necessity of sportsbooks following COVID news daily. Line makers are used to that — the testing status of any NFL quarterback radically impacted pro football betting lines all season.

“You really have to stay on top of all this, because if you don’t, there’s a chance you could get burned,” Avello said.

Were teams the drivers for Thursday’s move?

While Adams has been relaxing COVID policies instituted by former Mayor Bill de Blasio since taking office on Jan. 1, it’s easy to wonder whether the timing of this news is more than a coincidence. The NBA postseason gets underway in just over three weeks. The Yankees’ home opener against the Boston Red Sox is April 7, and the Mets first host the Arizona Diamondbacks eight days later.

According to Politico, the Nets hired The Parkside Group and former City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to lobby Adams to lift the mandate for athletes. Mets owner Steve Cohen donated $1.5 million to a political action committee backing Adams in the Democratic primary last year. Randy Levine, president of the Yankees, spoke at Adams’ press conference at Citi Field Thursday. He said the lifted mandate showed a commitment to restoring “economic health” to areas around the stadiums and arenas.

“I can tell you around Yankee Stadium, which is the hub of the Bronx, it hasn’t been that healthy,” Levine said. “It’s going to get healthy now.”

Not just any player

Irving’s importance to the Nets’ playoff push is hard to overstate, largely because no NBA player is playing at a higher level at the moment. Irving is averaging 38.7 points per game and shooting 55.2% from 3-point range this month. The Nets have gone 5-2 on the road (with Irving) and 2-4 at home (without him) in March.

Regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, Irving’s reluctance to get the vaccine has made the Nets’ path to the title more challenging. Brooklyn is 16-19 in home games this season and 22-16 on the road. Of the top 10 seeds in the East, Brooklyn — currently at No. 8 — is the only team with a losing home record.

What about baseball?

The Mets and Yankees both are listed among the top six picks at DraftKings to win the World Series, with the Yankees the third choice behind L.A. and Toronto at +900 and the Mets tied for the No. 4 choice with the Braves and Astros at +1000.

Some of the Mets and Yankees have not shared their vaccination status publicly, leading to speculation that some might not have been able to play in home games, at least early in the season. Aaron Judge, for example, played coy when asked about his vaccination status.

Avello said Thursday’s news figures to have minimal impact on baseball futures betting. The acquisition of Max Scherzer in November bumped the Mets from 10/1 to 9/1 at DraftKings, but neither the Mets nor Yankees saw a line change based on Adams’ announcement.

“We figured the baseball season is so long that at some point during the season, this would impact them,” Avello said of the vaccination requirement being lifted. “We didn’t know it would impact them right at the start of the season.”

Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY

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