LOS ANGELES — Ten and 12 may be the new lucky numbers in Las Vegas.
Those are the jersey numbers of recent Lakers acquisitions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, otherwise known as the saviors of a franchise that stumbled in the Western Conference semifinals the last two seasons.
Bettors have such robust faith in the refortified Lakers that they have placed more wagers on them to win the 2013 NBA title than any other team at nearly a dozen Las Vegas sports books.
Yes, that includes the defending champion Miami Heat and the same Oklahoma City Thunder that quickly bounced the Lakers out of the playoffs this year. The Heat has slightly more money bet on it at several sports books but lags far behind the Lakers in terms of number of bets.
“People just keep betting them,” Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports for the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, said of the Lakers, “and I can understand why.”
Adding the game's best center and a soon-to-be Hall of Fame point guard to a roster already featuring Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol has made many bettors consider the Lakers a (purple and) gold ticket.
Kornegay said the Lakers have “by far the most tickets on them” to win the title at his sports book, where they have drawn more than twice the money to win the title than the Heat. The Lakers have four times as many bets placed on them at MGM Resorts than does the Heat.
This avalanche of wagers on the Lakers turned them into co-favorites to win the title this season, matching the same 9-4 odds as Miami and topping the Thunder's 4-1 odds, according to the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
The resurgent Clippers are at 30-1 title odds as they continue to distance themselves from the franchise's days as a triple-digit long shot and rank No. 7 in terms of money bet.
Part of the Lakers' allure is the proximity of what has long been the most popular NBA franchise for casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. “We have way more California visitors than we do from Florida,” said Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports at MGM Resorts, which encompass 10 sports books in Las Vegas and two in Reno.
Howard and Nash have also been major selling points among bettors.
The Lakers were listed at 12-1 by the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino before Nash joined the team in July. Those title odds improved to 6-1 with the two-time most valuable player in the fold.
Once Howard was traded to the Lakers last month, their championship odds lowered again, to 3-1. They received one final bump based on the ensuing flurry of bets on them to win a third title in five seasons.
“Nash started it all, but Howard put it over the top,” Kornegay said. “As of right now, the sports books of Las Vegas definitely don't need the Lakers to win the championship.”
At least one NBA coach has gone on record as saying they won't.
“We're going to beat the Lakers,” Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks told reporters last week. He was joking. Or so it seemed at the time.