NFL Draft: Online Betting Trends
Who’s going first in the NFL Draft—Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa? Oregon’s Justin Herbert? LSU’s Burrow? Utah Aggie Jordan Love? William Hill’s Nick Bogdanovich talks about online betting trends, and how the sportsbook has kept bettors playing during the shutdown.
More than four weeks into the coronavirus shutdown, the new normal almost feels like normal, period.
It’s no longer odd to see people wearing face masks, or carefully pacing off six feet between themselves and the next person in the grocery line. In many ways, Americans have grown accustomed to shuttered schools, takeout-only restaurants, endless Zoom meetings and other limitations.
But for many, the loss that still stings is sports. In mid-March, on the very brink of the NCAA season, at a time when legal sports betting was booming in the U.S., everything shut down—March Madness, the NBA and NHL seasons, and the start of Major League Baseball.
But bettors will bet, and thanks to intrepid sportsbooks like William Hill, U.S. fans are wagering on Belarusian soccer, Mexican rugby and Russian table tennis, and rooting for players with tongue-twisting names like Uladzimir Khvashchynski and Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
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sportsquare asked Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US, how the Vegas-based sportsbook kept the bets going, and his thoughts on the scaled-down version of the NFL Draft, coming Thursday, April 23.
iGP: How in the world do you make odds on sports, teams and players no one’s ever heard of before?
Nick Bogdanovich: It was difficult, to say the least, but luckily, our company is headquartered in Leeds (U.K.), and we’ve been booking EU sports forever, so we just leaned on them. We scanned the globe to see what was being played on the field, and came up with darts, sumo wrestling, chess, Belarus soccer, Russian ping pong—anything that was left to bet on. Then we found lines on them, mostly relying on our European big brother.
We wanted to get some content out there for our customers—not for making money, because there’s no chance of making money in this environment, but for them to have something to do to get them through the doom and gloom.
There’s always something that pops up: eSports was the latest one. We did iRacing, and that’ll be back in a couple weeks when the next event is up with the Nascar people. The NFL draft, coming up April 23, is very popular.
Do you find that Americans are willing to put the time in, and acquaint themselves with these obscure sports so they can bet on them?
Yes. With everyone sequestered at home, they’re scouring the internet, doing research—it’s amazing what Wikipedia and Google can do for you. A lot of people already know about esports; there are a lot of gamers out there. As far as darts, not so much, and they’re not familiar with sumo wrestling and chess.
But once they bet it, they get a foundation. Then they build off that and start forming opinions. So yeah, it’s a good puzzle for people to figure out with all this time on their hands.
What people bet on has clearly changed. Has betting itself changed? How can I place an in-play wager on a sport I don’t know, or players whose names I can’t pronounce?
In-play is a little more difficult, because you want to be watching, and there are no live feeds. But believe it or not, people are betting on Russian table tennis, even though they can’t see it. You can follow a scoring update online that shows you the points. But you don’t get the enjoyment you get when you’re watching, as you would with 99.9 percent of all the other in-play products you’d bet.
How do you think sports will resume? How about Major League Baseball, for example?
It’s anyone’s guess. I think we’ll have a season. I don’t think it’ll be your typical 162-game season, but listen, we’ll take anything, whether it’s 75 games, 140 games or seven games. People are just looking for some normalcy, and any sports help lighten the dark times. I can’t wait for baseball to come back in some form or fashion.
OK, let’s talk about the NFL Draft. How do you weigh the potential trades and swapping draft picks when you post the odds?
There are going to be some trades, but you don’t know who’s going to pull a trade-off. You just do the research and do the best you can, and whatever happens, happens. Obviously the million-dollar question is, will someone trade up for Tua Tagovailoa? His health is a big issue, but that’s the one thing that’s going to trigger every other move afterward.
Everybody’s playing the same guessing game. This is an information-driven draft. The good thing is, this draft is very, very deep. There’s a ton of good players, and there are going to be really good players going into the second or third rounds too.
After the first two picks, which seem like mortal locks, obviously it looks like Joe Burrow is going to Cincinnati and Chase Young to the Redskins. After that, it’s a complete crapshoot. But the more unknown variables, the better for us.
What are some of the most popular props you posted?
Let’s go through them. Tua is drawing the most action, period. Anything Tua-related is good, and we have a bunch of different ways you can bet him. There’s his draft position. We opened initially at 4.5. It went down to 3.5, and now it’s trending back up because of late news that Justin Herbert was going to go before him. So the Tua draft position prop has been very heavily bet.
The next one is Mekhi Becton, an offense lineman we opened at 4.5. It’s all the way up to 8.5, so they’re betting he’ll go later in the draft. That’s been a very popular one. Isaiah Simmons is a very popular one, as well. He could be anywhere from third to tenth. We have it at 6.5, so that one’s drawing good action.
Justin Herbert is another one, a quarterback everyone’s fascinated with. We’ve got a prop up: who will go first, him or Tua? That’s drawing good action.
Quarterbacks are always big-ticket items. What are the props on who goes first, most QBs picked in the first round, and sleeper QBs?
It looked like an automatic lock that there would be four in the first round, so there’s nothing you could do with that. It’s about Burrow, Tua, Herbert and Jordan Love. There are no other quarterbacks going to the first round, so we just grouped them in with the running backs, put up the total number of running backs and quarterbacks taken in the first round, and lumped them together.
The Love prop is all over the place. People got in as low as six and as high as 28, so Love is probably the most interesting quarterback, where he lands, just because his range is so much further. Tua will have the most money bet on him in this draft of any player, but Jordan Love is very interesting, just because he could go as low as seven and as high as 28. Jordan Love, to me, is the most interesting guy in the draft.
Your CEO, Joe Asher, commented that sports would be especially welcome now, and help people get through this tough time.
For sure. Let’s face it, we’re a sports nation. It’s a huge part of the American fabric. William Hill is the largest bookmaker in the state of Nevada, and in recent times, we were moving into other jurisdictions and picking up major steam. People found that it’s a little more fun to watch the game with a 20-dollar bill on it, as opposed to just watching it and rooting for your favorite team.
So obviously, we hope sports come back sooner than later—for everyone’s sanity.