The NFL Draft becomes must-bet TV

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Draft betting isn’t great business for sportsbooks.

Draft betting isn’t great business for sportsbooks.
Image: Getty Images

Will it be Travon Walker? Aidan Hutchinson? Kayvon Thibodeaux? Whoever your gut is telling you is probably a safe bet — well, safer than most bets, anyway.

International sportsbooks have allowed draft betting for years, and with the astronomical rise of legalized sports betting and the impossible ease with which anyone can place a bet these days, major American sportsbooks don’t have much of a choice in putting up a line and an opportunity to gamble on your favorites for picks numbered 1 to 262.

But here’s the problem: The sportsbooks lose. And lose, and lose, and lose. ESPN reported that the bettors have been beating the books on the draft for well over a decade, including the past five years that it’s been allowed in the United States.

Sportsbooks want to keep customers happy with, and, to be perfectly honest, addicted to their service, so they’ve opened up draft betting across several states in the past five years. But there’s no secret information that they’re privy to, no data that they’re using that’s not available to the general public. It’s a bettor’s game.

“We’re looking at the same things everyone else is,” said Adam Pullen, the assistant director of trading at Caesar’s Sportsbook. “We’re looking at mock drafts, the experts, using them as a guide. We have some people we trust more than others, so it’s just knowing which ones to use and respect.”

Even those not “in the know” can feel pretty much in the know — at least, to the same extent that the oddsmakers are.

And unlike the outcome of a game, there are quite a few people aware of the outcome being bet on before it’s officially announced. While it’s against NFL policy to make a bet based on that insider information, that may not always stop people from leaking a sure thing to a friend or two to earn a little extra on the side — although agent Leigh Steinberg told Deadspin that’s not a common phenomenon.

“We’re all bound to a certain ethics in terms of using inside information,” said Steinberg, who has represented 64 first-round draft picks throughout his career. “A lot of people claim to have inside information, but it’s usually based on educated speculation.”

The draft’s betting scene poses an enormous challenge for sportsbooks to regulate, and while certain states have placed restrictions on when bettors are allowed to gamble on the draft as well as monetary limits, they aren’t necessarily one hundred percent effective in limiting the spread of insider information.

“Nevada has the time restriction [where the books close 24 hours before the draft starts], and West Virginia just reinstituted it yesterday for the draft,” Pullman told Deadspin. “Betting on the draft as it gets close — it’s not a certainty, but it’s almost a foregone conclusion.”

So to sum it up: No one knows except the people who know. Which is a bad combination for the sportsbooks, who fall into the former group there. It’s not a game where anything could happen, where no one in the world can truly know the outcome (unless, of course, you’re an NFL tanking believer) — it’s cold, hard information.

The sportsbooks move lines as prominent talking heads publicly encourage bets. In a case like Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow, it’s not even worth a bet, since the odds are so high — everyone knows who’s going to be the number one pick in those years, as the teams don’t exactly keep choices like that a secret.

But in a year like this, your guess is as good as mine, which is as good as whoever is setting the lines at the major sportsbooks. From a financial standpoint, they shouldn’t be opening their books up for this event. But they do.

“It’s basically a marketing or promotional event,” Pullman said of opening the books for draft betting. “We want to make the customers happy. The public’s going to win some money, and we hope that they reinvest that in the NBA Finals or other events.” 

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