After a flood of sharp money hit the NFL draft betting market, there was a new favorite to go No. 1 overall by Monday morning. Georgia defensive end Travon Walker was in, and Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson was out.
The surprise move at the top spot showed why so many bookmakers despise the exercise of posting fast-moving draft numbers. For the guys behind the counter who are accustomed to winning most of the time, the draft can feel like a no-win proposition.
“It’s my least favorite event to book,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “It’s just not a favorable event for the bookmakers. I don’t see how we’re going to win on this.”
Kornegay was behind the curve, which is how he wanted it. The Westgate did not post any draft props until Monday afternoon, after Walker and Hutchinson traded places. Hutchinson was the odds-on favorite at most books — as high as -250 — for about a month, but the SuperBook opened Walker -185 to be the first player picked Thursday.
While books such as DraftKings, FanDuel and William Hill aggressively set the market by posting several early props, Circa Sports played the waiting game and also opened a limited menu on Monday.
“I didn’t want to book the draft,” Circa owner Derek Stevens said between drags on a cigarette. “How do you get excited from a bookmaking perspective when the best you can do is a small loss? So the worst you can do is get destroyed.”
Stevens said he put the topic up for a vote with his staff and the result was 3-2 in favor of booking it. With the first-round stage set for Thursday in Las Vegas, this event is simply too big for bookmakers to avoid.
The event also will be a big disappointment for many visitors who plan to get in on the action. Nevada gaming rules stipulate all NFL draft props that mention the specific name of a player must be taken down 24 hours before the start of the first round, so most props will be off the board on draft day. Stevens is fine with that, he said, because there will be people in town armed with inside information.
DraftKings book director John Avello does not agree there’s a fear factor with inside info and called it a “big mistake” for Nevada to impose the 24-hour betting blackout.
“From what I’m reading, there’s 500,000 people coming to town, and you would think not a lot of them are going to be here by Wednesday afternoon in time to bet on it,” Avello said. “I’m interested to see what this event is going to look like in Vegas. Is the Strip going to be packed?
“Why can’t you bet it 10 minutes before the draft? I’m not sure what Nevada is seeing. I don’t see any red flags.”
Avello said DraftKings is booking the draft in 12 states — Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming — and is offering in-play wagering during the first round in all of those states except Arizona and West Virginia.
“It’s going to be a successful wagering handle,” Avello said. “Is it going to be a win? The draft has not been profitable for us (the past two years), but I’m hoping maybe this year it is.”
The Nevada Gaming Control Board first approved NFL draft wagering in 2017, and Kornegay is among the bookmakers who claim it’s a headache because they have lost each of the five years.
“I’m not sure how many years we’ve booked it, but we haven’t won yet,” Kornegay said. “We never questioned booking this year’s event, especially because it’s here. To be competitive, you have to offer it. But most of the play that we get on it is based on good information from educated players, and we’re on the short end of that.”
The latest information that leaked Sunday has the Jacksonville Jaguars targeting Walker instead of Hutchinson with the No. 1 pick, contrary to predictions that were made by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and several other draft experts. This draft is more of a mystery than most, so it could be a better result for the bookmakers, but let’s hope the winning trend continues for the bettors.
“It’s a huge event here in Las Vegas, so you manage your liability and keep an eye on it,” Red Rock book director Chuck Esposito said. “This is going to be the NFL’s biggest draft spectacle ever, so you have to book it. We see guys moving up and down the board and we are adjusting odds on almost a daily basis. It’s a lot of guesswork.”
Aside from a few long-shot plays that I would be surprised to win — LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. to be No. 2 pick (30-1) and No. 3 pick (100-1); the Saints to draft Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (+ 900) — here are my top prop bets:
— Wide receivers drafted in the first round: Over 5.5 (-165)
— Quarterbacks drafted in the first round: Under 3.5 (-175)
— Aidan Hutchinson to be the No. 2 pick (+ 220)
— Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett draft position: Over 10.5 (-185)
— Malik Willis (-160) drafted before Kenny Pickett
— Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner draft position: Under 7.5 (-200)
— Derek Stingley Jr. draft position: Under 11.5 (-150)
— USC wide receiver Drake London draft position: Over 10.5 (-110)
— Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams draft position: Under 13.5 (-120)
— Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis draft position: Over 18.5 (-130)
— Iowa offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum draft position: Under 28.5 (-110)
— Georgia linebacker Quay Walker draft position: Under 39.5 (+ 105)
— North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson draft position: Under 38.5 (+ 115)
— Christian Watson (-110) drafted before Georgia wide receiver George Pickens
— Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral (-104) drafted before Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder