ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — For those who haven't mastered the odds of Belarussian soccer or Russian table tennis, this week's NFL draft gives U.S. gamblers their first opportunity in weeks to bet on an event about which they actually know something.
With major sports shut down for more than a month because of the coronavirus outbreak, American sportsbooks say they expect football's annual draft to be the most bet on ever.
Desperate to offer a familiar event, online sportsbooks say they are seeing a much greater volume of bets on the draft this year.
Several sportsbooks estimated the gambling industry as a whole could see $5 million wagered on the draft in the U.S. this year; FOX Bet estimated the market at $20 million, up from a typical draft of about $1 million.
“There’s no doubt this will be the biggest-bet draft ever,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S. “The draft is a time of renewal, and I think people are looking forward to a bit of fun after all of the tough news we’ve had recently. Betting on the draft is small in context, so this is no silver bullet, but it’s something positive for sure.”
He said he expected his company to see twice the amount of bets it usually does on the draft.
The draft beginning Thursday will not be a financial windfall for sportsbooks, though. The amount bet is small compared with other well-known events.
And the level of action would be even greater if in-person sportsbooks were open (they're not). About 80% of sports betting is done online in New Jersey, with similarly high rates in other states.
But for gamblers who have no idea whether Aleksandr Kolbasenko or Egor Kovpak is more likely to prevail in a game of table tennis, the draft is something familiar to bet on.
Will Karins, a college student in Syracuse, New York, bet $15 that the Kansas City Chiefs will select Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III. If Karins is right, he'll win $525.
“I'm not an expert on ping pong,” he said. “As soon as I saw this, I jumped on it.”
In New Jersey, FanDuel says it is taking in three times the amount of bets and total money on this year's draft compared with a year ago.
Roar Digital, a partnership between MGM Resorts and GVC Holdings, predicts $5 million will be wagered nationwide.
“We're seeing a hell of a lot of interest, but at a lower average bet amount than we would see for a Super Bowl,” said Jason Scott, the company's head of trading. Its biggest markets surround Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and whether he will be taken before or after the fifth overall pick, and which team will draft him.
Rush Street Interactive, which operates the PlaySugarHouse site, had already taken in more bets on this year's draft as of Monday than it did on last year's draft — and most of the site's draft bets are made on the day of the event, chief operating officer Mattias Stetz said. Last year's NFL draft drew about the same level of bets as a typical NFL regular-season game, he added.
Customers of numerous online sportsbooks are predicting the following draft order for the first three picks, based on their bets: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young and his Buckeyes teammate cornerback Jeffrey Okudah.
“A few weeks ago you could have had a massive payout on (Oregon quarterback) Justin Hebert being the second quarterback taken in the draft after Burrow,” said Todd Fuhrman, an anchor and analyst for FOX Bet. “Now it's virtually a coin flip.”