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Sportsbooks Prepare for NFL Draft Betting: ‘It’s an Impossible Task’

For sports betting operators, NFL Draft odds rank on par with root canal treatments. Indeed, unlike weekly betting on NFL games, the draft odds market is dominated by savvy bettors.

To put it succinctly, bookmakers often take a bath on the NFL Draft.

Derek Stevens saw this himself when he oversees Circa Sports, which operates in several states as part of Stevens’ gaming portfolio.

“I have emotions on both ends of the spectrum. Number 1, as a football fan, I love the NFL Draft,” Stevens said. “But more recently, since we entered the sports betting business, I have come to dread it.”

Stevens and Circa Sports Chief Risk Officer Dylan Sullivan help delve into the NFL Draft odds ahead of Thursday night’s first-round festivities.

An impossible task

In an NFL game, regardless of the circumstances leading up to kickoff, the outcome is always decided on the field. The underdogs can win. A team missing a key player still has a chance to win.

But with the NFL Draft, there’s no game to play. It is more of an information duel between bookmakers and punters.

And bettors, mostly professionals, have been winning this duel for several years.

“There’s so much information,” Stevens said. “It’s an impossible task for our risk room to achieve this. The odds vary so much.”

Jayden or Drake?

A perfect example of these crazy odds swings is the first prop bet listed on Circa’s NFL Draft odds board: between Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye, which player will be picked first?

The prop is essentially a bet on who will go No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft. It is a foregone conclusion that USC QB Caleb Williams will become No. 1 to the Chicago Bears. In fact, it’s such a foregone conclusion that Circa Sports doesn’t even have a bet on the No. 1 overall pick.

LSU star Daniels opened as a healthy -350 favorite, with North Carolina’s Maye a +275 underdog. The big money focused on Maye to the point where both quarters were -115.

Since then, there has been a modest rebound, with Daniels as a -150 favorite as of Sunday afternoon.

Dozens of other NFL Draft prop bets on Circa’s board experience similar volatility, demonstrating the degree of difficulty for bettors.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 10,” Sullivan said, although he wouldn’t concede in the battle to beat the oddsmakers. “My goal is to win. It’s not an easy goal.”

The Maye/Daniels pillar should be decided by Washington’s commanders, who have the second overall pick. Unless, of course, there is a trade, which would be a wild card of information that could shake up the NFL Draft’s odds.

Michigan Man

The draft of Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy has sparked a lot of betting.

On April 15, when Circa Sports released a slew of NFL Draft odds, McCarthy’s Over/Under position of 5.5 saw significant movement in either direction in just a few minutes.

Under 5.5 – meaning McCarthy would be selected among the top five picks – opened as a -120 favorite, with Over 5.5 at -110. Under quickly rose to a -160 favorite, but almost as quickly, Under price returned to -120.

Then it moved back up to -160, with all of these moves happening in about 20 minutes.

As of Sunday afternoon, four days before the draft, under 5.5 is -130 and over 5.5 is even (+100).

“There was a lot of action on both sides,” Sullivan said.

Other notable players at Circa Sports:

  • Oregon QB Bo Nix from 32.5 (over -120) to 34.5 (over -185)
  • South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler from 86.5 to 76.5, then to 82.5 (under -120)
  • Michigan running back Blake Corum 68.5 (-130+) to 88.5

Bo Nix and Brock Bowers in Joel Klatt’s Mock Draft 3.0

Scan the table

It’s not just the biggest names that attract dollars in the NFL Draft odds market. Savvy bettors are programmed to look for value up and down the board.

Certainly, high-level QBs like Williams, Daniels, Maye and McCarthy suck up a lot of oxygen. But potential mid/late round picks also attract attention in Over/Under Draft position markets.

“Michael Pratt has bounced around between 130.5 and 165.5. That’s the biggest mover in terms of number of positions,” Sullivan said of the market for Tulane’s quarterback.

As of Sunday afternoon, Pratt’s Over/Under was 137.5, with Under a -130 favorite and Over tied (+100).

On the clock

State by state, there are often different regulations in the NFL Draft odds market. Nevada has perhaps the most unique requirement from state gambling officials, and it’s not popular with bettors.

“In Nevada, we have to reduce the odds 24 hours before the draft starts,” Stevens said, addressing props involving specific players. “But in Colorado and Illinois, we will remove them on Thursday at 4 p.m. central time.”

This means these deals are on the board until the start of the first round.

On the other hand, several states do not allow any betting on the NFL Draft, including:

  • new York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • Connecticut
  • Kentucky

Still, more than 20 states allow betting on the NFL Draft, with guardrails in place because it is a very hot market.

“The betting limits are a little lower, because they are based on information,” Stevens said, while noting that these limits do not detract from the popularity of the event. “The level of interest from football fans in the Draft is exceptionally high.”

Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and a senior reporter for VegasInsider.com. He is a prominent national sports betting journalist. He lives in Las Vegas, where he enjoys playing golf in 110-degree weather. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickE_Vegas.

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