There’s a saying in gambling that the “house always wins,” meaning that in most cases casinos and betting operators have better odds to win than bettors.
That philosophy also applies to sports betting where sportsbooks typically make profits on events ranging from the Super Bowl to March Madness to the MLB playoffs. One major sports-related event, however, is different. It’s the one event where bettors may be able to outmaneuver the sportsbooks: the NFL Draft.
As ESPN has reported, gamblers have been getting the better of sportsbooks on the draft for years, but continue to offer the service in order to satisfy customer demand.
Over $20 million was bet on last year’s draft, with more likely to be wagered this year. Bettors can wager on who will be selected No. 1 overall, which player will be the first wide receiver taken, and which players will be selected in the top 10 — there are hundreds of available bets such as these on legal U.S. sportsbooks like DraftKings
and the Caesars
But why is the draft unique? It’s mainly because in most cases, sportsbooks have more information than bettors. They have enormous databases on every player of every team, team trends, and tendencies of coaches and referees, among other things. But the draft is not a live sports game, you’re betting on people making decisions in a draft room.
“For instance in the Super Bowl, we have so much data, there’s so much information, that we’re so confident that the Rams should be 4.5 point favorites over the Bengals,”Jay Croucher, Head of Trading at the PointsBet sportsbook, said during a Wednesday interview with NBC. But he added, about the NFL Draft: “This kind of market, I really can’t tell you with much confidence who should go number one, or who will go number one.”
For once, sportsbooks and bettors are on a level playing field. Sportsbooks and bettors don’t have to forecast complex games with several dozen people involved, they simply need to learn the preferences of a General Manager, the person who makes a team’s draft pick. And one way to do that, is through information.
Here’s an example of how bettors can do well wagering on the NFL Draft. In the days leading up to last year’s draft, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that “most people” believe the Atlanta Falcons will select tight end Kyle Pitts at pick No. 4. Rapoport is one of the plugged-in analysts when it comes to NFL news, and has millions of followers on Twitter, so when he tweets information like that, the betting markets move.
Nine days before the draft, the odds that the Falcons would select a tight end was +160, but on the morning of the draft it was -250, representing a massive implied probability change from 38.% to 71.4% in a matter of days, according to odds from William Hill. If you were able to make that bet fast enough, you were able to cash in when the Falcons indeed chose Kyle Pitts a little over a week later. You can find a further explanation of how betting odds work here.
You didn’t need a giant database or tracking data to be able to bet on Kyle Pitts to be selected there, you just needed to be following Rapoport on Twitter.
Coucher conceded that sportsbooks basically rely on the same information as public bettors, indicating the draft is one big probabilistic guess.
“Alleged text messages from someone who might be a cousin of someone who might work at the Jags (the team selecting at No. 1 in 2022), this is the stuff that drives the market…its mock drafts, its sources, its things that get posted on Twitter,”
Coucher went on to say.
Last year was the third time that Americans could legally wager on the NFL Draft — the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018, allowing individual states to legislate sports betting — and bookmakers readily admit that they don’t always make money accepting bets on the NFL Draft.
“From a bookmaker’s perspective, handicapping the NFL Draft is one of the most difficult things that we do,” Johnny Avello, the Director of Race & Sportsbook Operations at DraftKings, wrote to MarketWatch in an email. “In this particular instance, I would move the needle towards the bettor. It’s been tough for us to make money in the draft.”
As mentioned above, quick reactions to breaking news from people who frequently talk with people who help run NFL teams can spread fast, but bettors who can take advantage of that information can get a leg up on the sportsbooks.
In sports competitions, chance and perhaps more accurately randomness can have a huge impact. Whether it’s a bad shooting night for the best shooter in an NBA game, or a weird bounce of a the prolate-spheroid-shaped football during a large scrum, randomness is everywhere. While some aspects of randomness exist in the NFL Draft, wagering on the latest news you saw on Twitter before the sportsbooks have time to change their betting lines can be your best opportunity to win, Croucher said.
“This is the nature of the draft, these markets, they are pretty vulnerable, and you can beat them.”