No Action On The Field, But Huge Betting Action At NJ Sportsbooks For Unusual NFL Draft

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In 2019, the first year with legal betting on the NFL Draft in New Jersey, the wagering option was somewhat of a novelty as some casual bettors no doubt didn’t even realize such gambling was allowed.

But last week, as the only game in town for the month of April for such sports bettors — those who didn’t jump at wagering on Russian table tennis or Burundi soccer — the NFL Draft was a bonanza for sportsbooks in the state.

Play Sugarhouse, for instance, reported an increase in betting handle of four times the 2019 figures, while total bet count was up five-fold.

A PointsBet Sportsbook official was less specific, but told NJ Online Gambling that its draft handle last week “absolutely crushed” the 2019 numbers.

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At FanDuel, a spokesman said that the betting before the first picks were made on Thursday was on par not just with any Thursday night NFL game but “a popular Thursday night NFL game.”

Almost three-quarters of the overall sports betting handle on Thursday at Play Sugarhouse was on the draft — remarkable given that there was no “action” at all in the draft, and gamblers were betting on decisions made by NFL teams that won’t impact the standings for at least four months.

“We are delighted with the strong wagering action and how bettors supported many imaginative prop bets,” said Mattias Stetz, chief operating officer for Rush Street Interactive, which operates the Play Sugarhouse sportsbook. “They really prepared well for the draft, and they weren’t afraid to bet heavily on some long shots.”

Widespread wide receiver, Tua interest

While wagering on quarterbacks — especially Alabama standout Tua Tagovailoa — drew the bulk of the headlines about positional betting, the largest bet of the day at Play Sugarhouse was almost $5,000 on CeeDee Lamb of Oklahoma being the first wide receiver chosen in the draft.

That bet was a loser, as Tua’s teammates Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy were picked 12th and 15th by Las Vegas and Denver, respectively, with Lamb going 17th to Dallas. Ruggs backers cashed at +400, and trifecta bets of Ruggs/Jeudy/Lamb, in that order, paid out at +650.

As for Tua, the betting public scored a win at some sportsbooks by having him as the second quarterback taken — behind only first overall pick lock Joe Burrow of LSU to Cincinnati. But Tua being chosen fifth, and by Miami, was a “win for the book” at FanDuel, a spokesman said.

PointsBet focused on Tua as a marketing play to prospective new bettors, with all bettors getting paid at the final price of +140 for him to be the second quarterback taken, even though the original odds were -115.

Everybody (wanted to bet on Jalen) Hurts

Also at PointsBet, the fate of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts was drawing action, both before Thursday’s first round and before Friday’s second round. Heading into that second day, Jacob Eason of the University of Washington opened as the favorite to be the “Next Quarterback Drafted” at even money, while bettors could get Hurts at +180 and Jake Fromm of Georgia at +425.

“Movement began pretty shortly after posting, as Hurts seemed destined to be the darling of Day 2,” said PointsBet spokesman Patrick Eichner.

So Hurts closed as the clear favorite at -175, with Eason at +150 and Fromm slipping to +900 amid reports by ESPN analysts that many teams were disappointed with his NFL combine performance.

The draft position of Hurts trended the same way, with the “exact pick number” over/under sliding from 69.5 in the days before the draft all the way to 48.5 as Day 2 began.

Hurts hype over at DraftKings Sportsbook also was noticeable. The opening line for Hurts to be drafted in the first two rounds was +200, then it went down to +160 two weeks ago, -110 a week before the draft, and -225 as the second round beckoned on Friday.

In a shocker, Hurts was picked 53rd by the Philadelphia Eagles — so the late money on Hurts did not pan out but earlier Hurts backers profited. It still proved to be an overall win for PointsBet thanks to the late action.

Eason settled for being the 122nd selection by Indianapolis, while Fromm slipped to the 167th pick by Buffalo.

Last first-round pick moved lots of money around

The closest call among the most popular bets at New Jersey sportsbooks had to be “over 0.5 running backs taken in first round.”

Much of the decision-making on that pick came down to whether NFL champion Kansas City would take a running back. With 31 picks gone, no other team had — leaving the Chiefs braintrust to decide who would win and who would lose this bet.

The Chiefs, in effect, took the over by choosing Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU with the final pick of the first round.

So what’s next for New Jersey sportsbooks in a post-NFL draft environment?

“We’ve been doing alright in the COVID-19 sports world, and will continue to stay creative and make the best of the opportunities to be had,” said Eichner of PointsBet. “Table tennis, for example, has been a really strong performer over the last few weeks, so we’ll continue to put some focus there — as well as on regional soccer and baseball, iRacing, darts, etc.”

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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