In the end, the bettors got it right.
Duke’s Paolo Banchero went No. 1 overall to the Orlando Magic in Thursday’s NBA draft, reflecting the opinion of the betting market, while ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski suffered a very rare misstep. Woj tweeted early Thursday morning that it was “increasingly firm” that Auburn’s Jabari Smith would go first, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren would go second and Banchero would go third, before reversing course on his reporting 30 minutes before the draft began.
It was a memorable night for sportsbooks and bettors, capping one of the wildest 24 hours we’ve seen so far in the world of legalized U.S. sports betting.
"This was wildly mispriced"
In betting markets surrounding events (rather than on-field sports) like the NBA draft, NFL draft and Oscars, after a big line move and an underdog cashing, there are always claims of “insider information” or “Vegas knew.”
After speaking to multiple respected bettors on Thursday night, that doesn't appear to be primary driving factor. All of them mentioned a variation on the same theme: This was simply a case of taking a shot on a mispriced market – there was no inside information.
“All of the information I used was publicly available,” Drew Dinsick told VSiN over the phone on Thursday night. “I felt the No. 1 market was wildly mispriced with Banchero at 20-1, 25-1 at some places [to go first overall].”
The No. 1 market had mostly been a two-horse race between Smith Jr. and Holmgren since sportsbooks opened the odds. Caesars Sportsbook opened the market to go No. 1 overall on April 7 with Smith the favorite at + 110, Holmgren at + 180 and Banchero at + 200. But over the last few months, Banchero drifted to as high as 20-1, while Holmgren was a -115 co-favorite with Smith Jr. as recently as last week.
Over the weekend, Dinsick began to place some wagers on Banchero based on his perceived edge, but several requests to sportsbooks for larger bets weren’t returned because it was Father’s Day on Sunday. He decided to partner up to get as many legal bets down as he could.
“Every single mock had it as a three-horse race,” Dinisck said. “I also graded him as the best future pro of those three guys.”
But the betting market to go No. 1 truly shifted on Monday morning.
On Monday morning, Dinisck said that every sportsbook got back to him and all of a sudden he had five times what he’d asked for on Banchero. “The market came with us,” Dinsick noted. “We weren’t the only people doing that.”
Respected bettor Bill Krackomberger bet $1,200 on Banchero to go No. 1 at 16-1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook after they opened the market on Monday, and gave out the play to his subscribers as well.
"You have guys that are experts in mock drafts, and they said ‘Don’t think that Paolo isn’t in the hunt for the No. 1 pick and there’s a chance Houston trades for the first pick and that team wants him,'" Krackomberger said Thursday morning on VSiN’s “A Numbers Game.” “So, he can’t be at more than 3-1 then if these experts know this. Anything over 3-1 is good value.”
VSiN host Gill Alexander also mentioned that he was betting Banchero to go No. 1 on Monday morning’s show, and reiterated his reasoning on Thursday morning.
“You’re betting the number, and the number was out of whack, Alexander said. “Whether it gets home or not is anybody’s guess.”
A small group of well-informed bettors also hit the Banchero market on Monday morning, and seemed to have more than a guess that he would be going first overall. Thomas Gable, sportsbook director at The Borgata in New Jersey, opened the No. 1 odds market on Monday morning and was immediately hit with Banchero bets.
"We opened it with Banchero at 9-1 on Monday morning," Gable told VSiN in a text message. "The first four bets were on Banchero and we moved to 7-1."
Gable told VSiN that a bettor he pays attention to and "has access to good information, and gets it earlier than most" placed a limit bet on Banchero at 7-1, and then it was "off to the races." Banchero was bet down to + 200 by the end of the day Monday.
As Gable theorized, there were likely three main buckets of bettors for Banchero to go No. 1, starting mostly on Monday morning:
1) Those betting Sunday night/Monday morning strictly on price
2) A much smaller group betting on good intel
3) People who were seeing the line movement on Banchero and chasing steam
From 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon until Wednesday at noon, Banchero to go No. 1 was the most popular NBA bet overall at Caesars (including NBA draft, championship and MVP), with 8% of tickets and 15% of the money.
And yet, Smith remained the odds-on favorite at sportsbooks on Wednesday to go No. 1 overall … until Wednesday evening.
Banchero becomes betting favorite on Wednesday night
A second odds shift happened late on Wednesday night. Dinsick noted that a prominent offshore book closed its No. 1 betting market around 7 p.m. PT. Soon after, the odds began shifting at legal sportsbooks (states have varying regulations about event-based wagering and when markets can be active). NBA draft markets have to come down 24 hours before the event in Nevada, for example, while they can remain open until the event begins in other states.
At PointsBet, Banchero went from + 425 to go No. 1 overall at 7:30 p.m. PT to + 135 three hours later. At 10:45 p.m. PT, Banchero became the odds-on favorite for the first time at PointsBet at -140 and got all the way up to -200.
“As Wednesday night went on, it was a combination of sharps hitting us, the global markets adjusting and respecting your own liability,” Wyatt Yearout, media analytics manager at PointsBet, told VSiN.
Banchero was the consensus favorite at other legal sportsbooks as well when the East Coast woke up on Thursday morning.
On Thursday morning at 8:41 a.m. ET, Woj tweeted that the “1-2-3 of the NBA Draft is increasingly firm, per sources: Jabari Smith to Orlando, Chet Holmgren to Oklahoma City and Paolo Banchero to Houston.”
Sportsbooks took several markets down, including the odds to go No. 1 overall. Some kept them closed, while others re-opened less than an hour later. FanDuel re-opened with Smith as high as -10000, with Banchero at + 900. And it seemed as if all of that odds movement on Wednesday night was for naught, as a Woj bomb had been dropped.
But a funny thing happened during the day on Thursday -- those odds kept shrinking for Smith, pointing to the fact that someone had good information, and it had been shared more widely. Smith got as low as -135 on FanDuel and Banchero + 100, before Smith was again bet out to above a -400 favorite. Public money and some bettors were betting Smith at much lower numbers than previously available.
“Smith was our biggest liability at PointsBet,” Yearout told VSiN. “Throughout the day on Thursday we got hammered on Smith to go No. 1, with 81% of handle at 49% of the bets.”
“Lots of action on Banchero on Thursday,” FanDuel sportsbook manager John Sheeran told VSiN in a text message, noting it was from both public and respected bettors.
“We were definitely getting hit by multiple sources,” DraftKings Sportsbook director Johnny Avello mentioned. “A few limit plays on Banchero and an accumulation of bets.”
There were plenty of public bettors that lost money on this market, believing that Woj wouldn't be wrong. After all, when was the last time that happened?
Dinsick came on VSiN’s “A Numbers Game” on Thursday morning and remained steadfast in his opinion. “I haven’t gotten a single call from a pro who is trying to lay off anything because they bet into Banchero at a bad number, so I think Woj might be wrong … this added layer of being right and Woj being wrong isn’t something I expected to sweat today.”
Asked how he spent his Thursday, Dinisick told me he was “staring at the odds screen for 12 hours.”
This set up the showdown before the NBA draft of bettors vs. Woj. Woj had tweeted in the morning that it would be Smith going No. 1; bettors were wagering money and shifting the odds that Banchero would be No. 1.
The odds were fairly stagnant for Thursday afternoon, until ESPN’s NBA pregame show came on 30 minutes prior to the start of the draft.
Woj tweeted again at 7:40 p.m. ET that Banchero had joined Smith Jr. under “serious consideration” to go No. 1 overall, which began moving the betting markets again, with more money flowing in on Banchero – until he emerged again as the odds-on favorite to go No. 1.
Two minutes later, Woj tweeted that Banchero had “emerged as a significant possibility to be drafted No. 1 overall.”
Thirteen minutes after that, at 7:55 p.m. (five minutes before the draft was set to begin), Woj tweeted that Banchero was “looming as a frontrunner to be the No. 1 overall pick.”
And soon after that, Banchero was indeed taken No. 1 overall by the Magic.
Mixed results for sportsbooks
Sportsbooks had mixed results on the No. 1 market, with DraftKings, SuperBook and Caesars small losers, and TwinSpires and PointsBet among winners. TwinSpires took down odds on Wednesday night and told VSiN that 93% of the handle was on Smith Jr. to go No. 1.
“We saw money piling up on Smith despite the market moving against him the last few days,” Zachary Lucas, sportsbook director at TwinSpires told VSiN. “We had a big liability on him going No. 1 and felt like we were dead once Woj tweeted earlier [Thursday]. Fortunately, Orlando bailed us out.”
WynnBET was a big loser, as it had opened the market for several months, including while the college basketball season was going on.
“We got smoked,” WynnBET traded Andy Morrissey said. “Money came in Sunday, and we were trying to get off of Jabari last week. They bet both [Wednesday night] until we decided to kill it.”
The biggest win for a bettor at WynnBET was a $12,500 win on a $500 bet on Banchero at 25-1 odds from a bettor in Colorado.
"We took a lot of money on Jabari Smith [to go No. 1], so it wasn't that bad," Avello said. However, one DraftKings bettor did win $100,000 off a $4,000 wager on Smith to be drafted No. 3 at 25-1 odds. And another in Colorado cashed a $10,000 ticket on Banchero to go No. 1 at + 500 odds.
“This was the wildest draft market I’ve ever seen and created incredible two-way action up until the onset of the pre-draft show," Eric Fenstermaker, Caesars Sportsbook senior trading manager," said in an email. "This was much crazier than this year's NFL draft, especially the No. 1 overall pick market. We did 10 times the handle on that market for the NBA when compared to the NFL."
Gable, who took his market down after the initial Thursday morning Woj tweet, was among the bookmakers rooting for that tweet to be correct. "This was a time I was really hoping Woj was right," Gable said. "But it turned out he was wrong."
There will certainly be bigger questions to be answered about the power of media insiders to impact the betting markets, but Thursday was one of the craziest betting days in the young history of legalized American sports betting – one that sportsbooks and bettors won’t soon forget.