With Major Sports All Paused, NFL Draft Betting Generating Enormous Handle In NJ

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A week from Thursday, NFL general managers and their staffs will sit alone at home on their computers and phones and start selecting players in the 2020 NFL draft.

For the past few weeks, New Jersey sports bettors have been doing pretty much the same thing. At home, on their phones and computers, no more or less able to hug (or boo) Roger Goodell than the drafted players will be, gamblers in the Garden State have been getting their picks in.

When it comes to sports betting during the stay-at-home era, the NFL draft is just about the only game in town. With all due respect to darts, table tennis, Chinese Taipei baseball, and Belarus Premier League soccer, the NFL draft represents the sole outlet for bettors to wager on outcomes involving teams and athletes they’d heard of prior to a month ago.

And according to the top New Jersey online/mobile sportsbooks, those bettors are firing away, dwarfing the NFL draft betting action seen under “normal” circumstances in 2019.

Exponentially amplified early action

As of April 14, nine days before the draft, bet count and handle at FanDuel Sportsbook were more than three times the volume the book was seeing in New Jersey during the same pre-draft period in 2019.

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At PointsBet, betting turnover for the 2020 draft had nearly equaled total 2019 handle with nine days to go, and the sportsbook told NJ Online Gambling that it projects final wagering numbers to be “2½ times larger than last year.”

At DraftKings Sportsbook, the virtual ticket writers are so busy that handle has already exceeded what the operator saw for the entire 2019 event. That’s especially staggering when you consider that, as DK informed us, more than 90% of the 2019 betting action took place in the last 10 days before the draft.

Some of the increase, says DraftKings Director of Sportsbook Operations Johnny Avello, owes to the expansion in draft betting markets from 46 last year to 130 this year.

“When you put up three times as many markets as you had in the past, certainly by expanding the menu you expand the volume,” Avello said. “That’s one reason betting on the draft is up. The other is, in light of what other sports we’ve offered — I mean, ping-pong’s done great, but the core stuff is just not around — and with this being the first real big event since the virus situation, I’m not surprised that people are just chomping at the bit to wager on something that they’re very familiar with.”

The number of betting markets for the draft is up at every sportsbook and nowhere is it higher than at PointsBet, which asserts its approximately 175 markets are the most available in either New Jersey or Indiana.

“The handle,” PointsBet Director of Communications Patrick Eichner told NJ Online Gambling, “will ultimately be on par with a standalone marquee NFL event, i.e. a Monday Night Football or Thursday Night Football matchup.”

Follow the money

What are the most popular draft markets? At FanDuel in NJ, the top five by bet count are as follows:

  1. Team to draft Tua Tagovailoa
  2. No. 1 overall pick
  3. First draft pick by NY Giants
  4. First WR drafted
  5. First 3 Picks — Exact Order

By handle, the rankings look different, as bettors laying huge amounts on -7000 favorite Joe Burrow to go first might be tilting the scale:

  1. No. 1 overall pick
  2. Tua Tagovailoa draft position
  3. No. 2 overall pick
  4. Total QBs drafted in Round 1
  5. First WR drafted

FanDuel Sportsbook has posted its share of creative markets, and one that’s been particularly interesting to track is the number of quarterbacks selected in the first round, with an over/under of 4.5. By bet count, 62% of wagers in NJ are on the over, but in terms of handle, 85% is on the under. This would seem to indicate the “sharps” don’t expect a fifth signal caller to come off the board in the first round.

Whether you’re looking to risk serious money or just seeking a little action to enhance a rare few evenings of live sports-related television, FanDuel is doing its best to provide bettors with options.

“The NFL draft is one of the FanDuel Sportsbook’s most popular markets,” said Director of Publicity Kevin Hennessy, “and we have an incredibly diverse offering available for our customers to enjoy what looks to be a big TV night to celebrate the NFL.”

Trifecta? What is this, horse racing?

Multiple sportsbooks are offering trifecta bets on the exact order of the first three picks, with both FanDuel and DraftKings finding Joe Burrow-Chase Young-Jeffrey Okudah to be the most popular wager.

In fact, for DraftKings, that top-three-in-order bet is the book’s most popular market this year.

And interest in the fourth pick is also very high, with one of the local teams, the New York Giants, selecting in that spot (barring a trade up or down). Many mock drafts have them taking Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, and DK has draft specials on both the Giants and the Jets, with Simmons the favorite to be the Giants’ first pick at +130. For the Jets, who select 11th, Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy is the favorite — but with so much uncertainty the deeper into the draft you go, Jeudy pays 4/1.

DK is expecting to offer big odds boosts as the draft draws nearer, but for now, the sportsbook has a special promotion enabling every bettor to take advantage of two 20% “profit boosts” to use on any draft market of their choice.

In general, the operator is thinking outside the box in terms of markets and promos, and it’s no mystery as to why.

“When you have a lot of time on your hands,” Avello said, “you can go a little bit deeper than you normally would go. We would’ve had the NCAA basketball tournament, we would’ve had the Masters, we would’ve had baseball going, and the NBA and NHL playoffs. We don’t have any of that. So it gives the team time to explore options.”

Don’t expect in-draft betting

One thing DraftKings is not currently expecting to explore is live wagering. Unless something changes, the plan is to close betting at the start of the draft each day, and then post new odds heading into the second and third days.

“We did talk about doing it live, but I think it’s a little complicated,” Avello said. “We’re probably going to do only the traditional way.”

One market that is sure to be closed after the first day of the draft, but which has generated a lot of interest at every book, is the landing spot for Tua Tagovailoa. The rehabbing QB, who dislocated his hip during a November game, has a wide range of potential outcomes.

At PointsBet, the Dolphins (+110) and Chargers (+115) are the favorites to take him (they’re slated to draft fifth and sixth, respectively), but there’s also been a fair amount of action on the Jaguars (+600), Redskins (+1300), and Raiders (+1500) to take Tua.

And then there’s one major wild card.

“We recently took some sharp money on Tua to the Bucs at +8000,” Eichner revealed, noting that Tampa, which holds the 14th pick but could trade up, has since dropped to +2500. “Guess some sharps like the thought of Tua potentially being drafted to learn under Tom Brady for 1-2 years.”

Photo by Douglas DeFelice / USA Today Sports

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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