Las Vegas Raiders among teams public bettors backing so far

By Ben Fawkes  (VSiN.com) 

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If there’s one thing that’s been crystal clear after speaking with bookmakers before this football season, it’s that the NFL market is as robust as it's ever been.

“The NFL is king,” Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading at William Hill, told VSiN. “Every year the decisions are getting bigger and bigger and everything is getting larger because of the overall amount of money in the pool nationwide.”

Widespread legal sports betting is now available in 30 states (plus Washington D.C.) and over $50 billion will have been wagered this year alone by the time the 2022 NFL season kicks off.

But which teams and markets is all that money going to?

I spoke with eight bookmakers leading up to the NFL season to get a sense of the teams and bets the public is backing.

Here are three teams that the public has been betting this offseason:

Las Vegas Raiders

Yes, the Raiders are popular at Vegas books. The surprise talking with many bookmakers is how popular they’ve been across the country this offseason.

In the middle of the pack as far as Super Bowl odds (40-1 at DraftKings Sportsbook), the Raiders have the worst odds to win a stacked AFC West (+ 650), are 20-1 to win the AFC and have a win total of 8.5.

That hasn’t stopped the public from hammering the Silver and Black.

“The public is betting the Raiders in every state we’re in,” Pullen said. “They’re getting widespread support, not just here in Vegas.”

The Raiders had the second-most handle (7%) and tickets (7%) at Caesars sportsbooks to win the Super Bowl behind the Bills, and the second-most handle (14%) and tickets (14%) to win the AFC. They also had nearly half of all bets to win the AFC West at Caesars (46%).

“The Raiders are our biggest Super Bowl liability,” Station Casinos sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “Fans want them to do well here in Vegas, but from a business side we’re going to be rooting for them not to cover on a weekly basis.”

Esposito said there were more tickets on the Raiders and Chargers to win the AFC West than the Chiefs and Broncos combined. Station Casinos had their highest ticket count of any NFL win total on the Raiders Over 8.5 wins.

The Raiders also had the most tickets and liability to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, according to vice president of risk Ed Salmons. He noted that Raiders Over 8.5 was one of the most popular season win total wagers as well.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Not a team you were expecting to have a lot of Super Bowl bets at 100-1, eh?

“I can’t work a shift without seeing money on the Steelers to win the Super Bowl,” Salmons noted. 

Pittsburgh is the SuperBook’s third-biggest Super Bowl liability at the moment, mostly from an accumulation of small wagers. 

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Many bettors also placed more speculative wagers on the Steelers earlier in the season, thinking that they may land a prominent QB on the market.

“Our biggest liabilities to win the Super Bowl are the Steelers and the Raiders,” Chris Bennett, sportsbook manager at Circa Sports, told VSiN in early August. “Pittsburgh’s liability was mostly generated before the QB carousel, and people were betting them like they were getting Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. I’m very comfortable with our liability on them.”

Bettors have been lining up to take a flier on the Steelers to win the AFC North at + 900 or + 1000 odds at various sportsbooks as well, given the uncertainty with the Watson situation in Cleveland and Mike Tomlin’s track record of never having a losing season as head coach.

“We have the most tickets and money in the AFC North market on the Steelers,” Esposito noted. “We’ve also seen some action on the Steelers Over 7.5 wins.”

Detroit Lions

Call it the “Hard Knocks” effect. Call it a lovable loser. The public has been all over the Lions this offseason to win the Super Bowl, go Over their win total of 6.5, make the playoffs and win the NFC North.

The Lions haven’t made the postseason since 2016, but 97% of the bets and 95% of the money was on Detroit to make the postseason at BetMGM sportsbooks in mid-August. The Lions’ odds to make the playoffs had moved from + 500 to + 350, and they represented BetMGM’s biggest liability to win the NFC.

“Detroit is seeing a lot of money to win the division and Over their win total,” Salmons noted.

The Lions to win the NFC North (+ 850) has been the second-most popular bet on a team to win a division at BetMGM books (behind the Eagles at + 160 to win the NFC East), with 56% of the bets and 48% of the money on Detroit to capture its first division crown since a 1993 NFC Central title.

“We took some money on the Lions Over,” DraftKings Sportsbook director Johnny Avello told VSiN.

DraftKings also reported a $2,000 wager on the Lions at 150-1 to win the Super Bowl, their second-largest Super Bowl bet by liability so far this offseason.

“We’ve seen some more money on the Lions than the Bears,” Esposito said. “I think the arrow is pointed up there, and people are looking at them as the third-best team in the NFC North.”

Circa Sports was another book with plenty of Lions interest. “We’ve seen public action on Detroit winning the Super Bowl, going Over 6.5 (opened 6.5 with Under juice, now 6.5 with Over juice), even some bets on Over the alternative win total of 7.5 at plus money,” Bennett said. “Sharps also like the Lions more than the Bears, and I can’t get any bets on Chicago to win the Super Bowl even floating up their number. That’s been the thing that’s surprised me the most.”

The Lions love (and Bears apathy) stretched all the way to New Jersey, where Thomas Gable, sportsbook director at The Borgata in Atlantic City, told VSiN the Lions are the third-biggest Super Bowl liability at his shop.

“People have been betting the Lions at longer odds and maybe with what the Bengals did last year,” Gable said. “We’ve seen all Over money on the Lions win total, and all Under money on the Bears.”

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