Someday there will be games again, giving sports bettors the action they crave and mostly have missed for the past six weeks. But in the meantime, the closest thing we have to a major event will have to do.
That would be the NFL Draft, scheduled for Thursday through Saturday in television, cyberspace and places where betting on its results is permitted, the sports books that process such transactions are eager to help.
There will be plenty to do.
“From talking to the guys handling our risk management stuff for Fox, they’re anticipating four to five times the betting handle to come in on the draft through our book as they normally would,” Todd Fuhrman said.
Fuhrman was an oddsmaker at Caesars in Las Vegas in the late 2000s and more recently has been an analyst for Fox Sports, since 2018 on the sports-gambling show “Lock It In” on FS1.
Last year, the Fox brand branched into the gaming business itself with a sports book called “Fox Bet,” currently operating in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with other states on the way.
It is one of many books that will take action on the draft in states where it is allowed by law, including New Jersey but not Pennsylvania. (There is no online sports betting at all in New York State.)
This is all relatively new. It was only in 2017 that Nevada first approved betting on the NFL Draft, tired of having unregulated offshore books handle all the action on the event.
Since then interest in draft betting has grown and is sure to set records this year because of the lack of other events during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fox Bet projects the gambling industry as a whole will see about $20 million wagered on the draft in the U.S. this year, which it said could be 20 times the normal amount. There are multiple reasons for that, including there being more betting markets than in the past, but the pandemic also is an important factor.
"Given the unique circumstances we’re all in, this will clearly be uncharted territory,” Fuhrman said. “As a result what you’ve seen from a lot of the operators is extensive menus that you otherwise wouldn’t have out there if it was competing for air time with the NHL playoffs, the NBA playoffs and regular-season major league baseball.”
One example: Betting on a first-round trifecta of sorts in which one tries to assess the first three picks in order.
The sports book William Hill offers a dizzying array of prop bets for online bettors in New Jersey and Nevada, using the sorts of mix-and-match gimmicks usually associated with Super Bowl bets.
Fuhrman said that as of Tuesday, 38 percent of FoxBet bettors had put their money on offensive tackle Jedrick Willis as the Giants’ first pick. Only 12 percent of bettors – and only 2 percent of total money – was on linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
That is because bettors do not necessarily put money on whom they believe will be selected but rather on which bet gives them the best value based on oddsmakers’ payouts.
He called defensive lineman Derrick Brown “the Johnny-come-lately to the party,” attracting just under 10 percent of bets on whom the Giants will take first.
At William Hill, 66 percent of bets on the Giants’ first-round pick have been placed on Simmons.
As for the Jets, Fuhrman said that 59 percent of all bets have been placed on Henry Ruggs III, CJ Henderson or Austin Jackson, mostly because of the handsome paydays available for bettors if they hit on one of those players.
“More often than not in some of these draft props the general public wants to stay away from the real heavy favorites,” Fuhrman said.
One interesting betting drama has been the race for which quarterback will be drafted next after the presumed No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow.
"A few weeks ago, you could have had major odds on Justin Herbert,” Fuhrman said. “That number has come down substantially, so much so you’re talking about a virtual coin flip between [Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa].”
At William Hill, 51 percent of bets on which player will be drafted third among quarterbacks are on Tagovailoa, compared to 36 percent for Herbert.
This could be the NFL Draft’s coming out party as a sports betting experience, given the lack of alternatives – even more so than if the draft actually were held in Las Vegas as originally scheduled.
“If you’d have told me when I moved out to Vegas in 2005 that in 2020 we’d be talking about sports betting in a menagerie of states, we’d have professional sports out there in the desert, especially an NFL team,” Fuhrman said, “I’d have gone, 'There is absolutely no chance that that kind of thing could happen.'"