In a world with no live sports, the NFL Draft is offering a refuge for bettors and sportsbooks.
While sportsbook operators have tried their best to be creative in offerings from darts and Belarusian soccer to esports, there was still a massive shortfall in March handles across the country.
With fans’ familiarity with football, the NFL Draft will be a welcomed sight on TV, and it’s expected to be a life raft for sportsbooks.
“It’s something that people recognize; it’s not like ping pong or Russian soccer, they feel like they know football and as a bettor have an idea of how it will go,” PlayIndiana analyst Jessica Welman said. “It’s easy to wrap their head around.”
Projections from PointsBet suggest a handle 2.5 times larger than last year’s NFL Draft by Thursday. That would put it on the same level as a Monday Night Football matchup.
The bump in wagers will be welcomed by the sportsbooks, which haven’t done well with the exotic offerings, Matt Holt, president at U.S. Integrity, said.
Holt said a large sportsbook operator told him Turkish soccer received two bets, nationwide.
“It’s not suddenly like these new sports with newfound interest; it’s more for optics,” Holt said. “I do think [the NFL Draft] will help. The books that do offer it will do quite well, and there will be a lot of signups, which at the end of the day as a sportsbook operator, is what you want out of the draft, there’s only so much revenue to generate.”
Especially in a time with no other sports in the U.S., the NFL Draft offers an easy entry path for new bettors, Adam Thompson, a handicapper-analyst for Bookies.com, said. From the draft, he said bettors can jump right into who the first NFL coach to be fired in 2020 will be, as well as the standard MVP and Super Bowl predictions.
“There will be a lot of people who have enjoyed it in the past, but also people trying it for the first time,” Thompson said. “People who just normally bet on games, the word is out about the draft offerings, with more than 600 futures bets and we’re only in April. The NFL Draft will be an opening of the door for other future bets.”
One aspect that could keep NFL Draft betting lower than otherwise possible is a lack of awareness by bettors, PlayIndiana’s Welman said. States like Indiana, which opened last year and steadily grew, have bettors now faced with closed casinos and no sports to bet on.
“It’s just a question of whether they have the presence of mind,” Welman said. “With the draft that’ll be something you see a lot of promotions behind it: free bets, odds boosts, deposit bonuses. It’s something [operators] can promote.”
Along with plenty of promotions, there will be free-to-play offerings from a variety of sportsbooks, including BetMGM and Caesars. The top prize for the Caesars game is two tickets to Super Bowl LV and $2,500 for travel accommodations.
In the past, intriguing and detailed draft offerings were mostly offered by illegal offshore sportsbooks, with legal U.S. sportsbooks offering “generic, bland bets,” Thompson.
Thompson said there are hundreds of draft bets out there, from things like “the first player drafted at each position” to “SEC vs. every other conference in the first round.”
In future years, it’s unlikely NFL Draft betting will match whatever the handle ends up being this year. That said, Thompson said the draft would be here to stay as a spring betting option.
“It’s a good idea for sportsbooks to embrace the NFL Draft and go all in,” Thompson said. “There will be a dip from this year in future years, but the numbers will always be higher from here on out.”