The Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets won’t play the first game of their Western Conference finals series until Monday night. But at one Las Vegas casino, bettors who picked the Warriors to win the conference are already getting paid.

Warriors Golden Nugget bets
The Golden State Warriors celebrate winning the 2017 Western Conference finals. While the Warriors haven’t won the 2018 conference finals yet, the Golden Nugget is already paying out bets on the team. (Image: Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

This isn’t a case of a sportsbook projecting confidence in order to drum up publicity. The early payouts are happening at the Golden Nugget, which is owned by Tilman Fertitta. That’s the same man who bought the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion last September, a purchase that created an issue when it came to NBA betting.

Casino Avoids Conflict of Interest

Under Nevada gaming procedures, the Golden Nugget had to stop taking any bets on the Rockets in order to avoid even the appearance of any conflicts of interest. It’s the same rule that caused Caesars properties to stop taking bets on the Boston Celtics after an executive became part of that franchise’s ownership group, and the one that once prevented Station Casinos from taking bets on UFC events.

As a result, all NBA futures bets at the Golden Nugget that could potentially involve Houston are on who will finish best outside of the Rockets. When it comes to the Western Conference, that leaves only one team in the running.

“We’ve already graded [the Warriors] a winner,” Golden Nugget sportsbook manager Aaron Kessler told ESPN. “Bring your ticket and you’ll get paid.”

Golden Nugget Could Miss Out on Finals

This could also cause an issue for the NBA Finals. Should Houston manage to get by Golden State, the winner of the Eastern Conference would then be graded as the best finishing team in the NBA, requiring the sportsbook to pay out bets on that team.

The prohibition isn’t only on futures bets. The Golden Nugget hasn’t been taking bets on any games involving Houston this year. That means there are no bets being taken on the Western Conference finals, and potentially, the sportsbook could miss out on the NBA Finals as well.

“It’s crazy,” Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller said 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.”

The lack of betting on the Rockets could prove significant, especially considering the level of anticipation around the Western Conference final. Houston and Golden State are expected to play a highly competitive series, with the winner becoming a heavy favorite to win the NBA championship.

According to Ladbrokes, the Warriors are 10/21 favorites to win the series over the Rockets (17/10). Golden State is also a 7/10 favorite to win the NBA championship, ahead of Houston (2/1). By contrast, the Cleveland Cavaliers (17/2) and the Boston Celtics (16/1) are considered longshots to win a title this season, regardless of who wins the Eastern Conference.

But while the Golden Nugget will miss those bets, Kessler says there’s plenty of other action to tide the sportsbook over if they miss out on some NBA betting.

“It’s not going to kill us if we don’t book [the NBA Finals],” Kessler told ESPN. “We’d still have baseball, and we still have the [Vegas Golden] Knights.”

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