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Gambling on NFL Draft surges at legal and offshore sportsbooks

22nd April, 09:06

President Rickey Armstrong, Sr, President of the Seneca Nation, holds up the first bet plaved at the new Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino sports lounge Friday, December 13, 2019. This is the first sports lounge opening for Seneca Gaming Corporation. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

There is no way to legally bet on the NFL Draft in New York State, where online sports gambling remains illicit and in-person sports wagering remains impossible with casinos shuttered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

But gambling on the draft has surged in states, like New Jersey, with legal online sports betting and among unregulated offshore sports books, as companies work to capitalize on the expanded interest in prop bets in the absence of games because of the pandemic.

"Wagering this year on the NFL draft is a long way ahead of where it was at this stage last year and in excess of 10 (times) ..." said John Sheeran, the director of trading for FanDuel, adding that the company is offering more than 200 NFL-Draft related bets, or nearly four times as many prop bets as it did a year ago. "Some inherent growth is contributing to it, but it is fair to say customers are much more engaged in the draft than they would normally have been, even going back a week, that far out. There's no doubt that people are looking at this year's draft as a kind of bridge back to reality and normality around the core U.S. sports."

U.S. sports gambling at this time of year is typically dominated by the NBA and NHL playoffs and regular season Major League Baseball. Without those events, gambling on the NFL Draft has grown. Traditional NFL Draft-related prop bets, such as whether a team will select an offensive or defensive player with its first pick, or who will go first overall, or where will Tua Tagovailoa be selected, remain the bedrock of this slice of the industry, but the increased interest has pushed companies to take to concept of draft prop bets much farther.

Will the NFL Draft be hacked? Will NFL prospects and their friends and families practice proper social distancing? Who will the No. 1 overall pick hug first? What's the specific order of the top three wide receivers drafted? How many dogs will be shown during the first round? What about cats?

"It's comparable to when we put up crazy stuff at the Super Bowl or for any other event," said Adam Burns, the sportsbook manager at BetOnline.ag. "Those things we're kind of ballparking. I'm not researching all 38 players that are supposed to be on and if they have a cat or not. It's impossible to do.

"We put it up and we move the line based on how the money is coming in. Those are more for fun. People like to bet on stuff that's different than the regular stuff. 'How many quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round?' There's a lot of money on that one. It's probably one of our biggest bet props. But some other people like having those fun side bets, and especially in this day and age, where they're betting on Russian ping pong and competitive eating and we're putting up odds on the Jordan documentary or Tiger King. We're getting creative, I have to say that."

Burns said prop bets have accounted for about 2/3 of the betting handle at BetOnline.ag during the pandemic, compared to about 1/3 of their business when traditional sports leagues are playing games.

Pat Morrow, the head oddsmaker at Bovada.lv, said prop bets now account for roughly 50 percent of the wagers at his sportsbook, up from about five to 10 percent, and not only because of the lack of games, but because of the increased offerings.

"We have props every year for the draft, but this year, with really no sports whatsoever, we kind of overdid it a little bit," Morrow said. "It's been good. Looking at the betting handle right now, it's about as much as the last five drafts combined already, and we're not even at Thursday yet.

"We're not researching who's going to beat who every day like we usually are and by how many points, so that added time has allowed us to beef up the limits and beef up the kind of prop offerings to try to make this an event something that will allow players to have some semblance of the betting experience that they're used to having."

Savvy gamblers interested in NFL Draft prop bets have the opportunity to shop for the best lines across these companies. For those unwilling to dabble offshore and unable to legally bet on sports, FanDuel and DraftKings are offering free fantasy contests.

FanDuel is promoting the "$10K Predict the Draft" contest, which challenges fans to predict 10 players drafted in order, without a salary cap, and the "$10K Draft Challenge Free Play," which allows players to build teams of players based on draft position, balanced against a salary cap. Players selected earn points for when they are selected over the three full days of the draft.

DraftKings is running a similar game, the "2020 Draft Challenge," in which players can predict the first 15 draft picks for a share of $25,000 in total prizes.

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