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A Cubs-themed World Series could set wagering records

For star power and fascinating storylines, it’s tough to top the Chicago Cubs. A team of future superstars — starting with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo — leading a popular franchise with more than a century of suffering in its past is more than enough to make this October unforgettable.

In case anyone has forgotten, the Cleveland Indians are a part of the story, too, and they add another element of intrigue.

When the numbers are totaled, this might be the most-wagered World Series in history.

“It has a chance,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said, “because the sports betting handle is at an all-time high and the Cubs are involved.”

The scene opens Tuesday in Cleveland, where the Indians own home-field advantage. But in Las Vegas, the Cubs are minus-210 favorites to win a best-of-7 series that has history written all over it. The first 24 hours of wagering inflated the price on the Cubs.

“Somebody new is going to win it, and that’s the good part,” Wynn Las Vegas sports book director John Avello said.

The Cubs are chasing their first World Series title since 1908, and the Indians’ championship drought dates to 1948. Rarely have the stakes been higher in terms of the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Who wins it all?

“I’ll take the Cubs to win in five games,” VegasInsider.com handicapper Micah Roberts said. “The Indians have done an amazing job winning 10 of their past 11 games, but I don’t see how Cleveland can match up game after game against the Cubs’ starting rotation in a seven-game series.”

The Cubs are expected to start left-hander Jon Lester in Game 1 against Indians ace Corey Kluber. Roberts said he would bet on a pitcher’s duel that stays under the total, and it’s worth noting Cleveland’s past seven games stayed under.

“The Cubs’ starting pitching is so good,” Bogdanovich said. “The Indians are not sexy, but they just know how to win. It definitely will be no picnic for the Cubs.”

Chicago’s rotation behind Lester is stronger with Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. Cleveland manager Terry Francona has an ace in the bullpen with lefty Andrew Miller. Bryant and Rizzo swing the biggest bats for a Cubs team that won 103 games in the regular season. The Indians won 94 games with a lineup of mostly no-names.

“Because of the Kluber factor — he has allowed only six runs combined in his past five starts — I expect Cleveland to win at least one game,” Roberts said. “But the Cubs’ destiny is a few decades more pronounced.”

Either way it goes, everything sets up for a potentially historic series at Nevada books. The state’s sports wagering handle is projected to approach a record $5 billion in 2016. A record $132.5 million was wagered in the state on Super Bowl 50 in February, and now baseball will briefly steal the spotlight from the NFL.

Countless futures tickets on the Cubs are hanging in the balance.

“I think it’s going to be a close series,” Bogdanovich said. “I would like to see it go seven games.”

An extended series means more wagering, of course. When the NBA Finals went seven games in June, the handle was huge, and the result went in Cleveland’s favor.

■ NOTE — A World Series prediction poll of Review-Journal staff members, Las Vegas book directors and professional handicappers will be posted Monday at reviewjournal.com and published in Tuesday’s paper.

Contact sports betting reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow on Twitter: @mattyoumans247

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