The NFL Draft is a unique betting headache for bookmakers.
In no other event is inside information so rampant. As Superbook USA exec director John Murray told ESPN this week:
“Almost every large bet you take on the draft is sharp. If it’s someone you’re not familiar with, you have to assume they have some information you don’t.”
It’s something that you need to have
Indeed, bookmakers have largely resigned themselves to the fact they are going to lose money on NFL betting on draft day. It is seen as a loss leader and a ‘hygiene factor’ to keep customers happy.
However, the specter of inside information has grown beyond the draft in recent years, and is now a creeping issue across the NFL offseason.
Suspicious NFL betting
In March, the league was in the spotlight again because of a flurry of bets on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl – just days before QB Tom Brady un-retired.
Sportsbooks across the country laid bets on the Bucs as high as 60/1 before they were cut down to 10/1 on the Brady news.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind they knew he was coming back when they placed those wagers,” Jay Kornegay, Westgate Superbook VP, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Should the NFL look into Bucs bets?
Kornegay said the possible leak was “something the NFL needs to look into.”
He also told Forbes the NFL needs to tighten up its information rules to clarify things as public or non-public information.
“Either we all know it, or nobody knows it,” he said.
NFL betting rules
Interestingly enough, the NFL already has an insider trading rule. Clause five of its gambling policy states:
“Unless duly authorized, NFL Personnel are prohibited from using, disclosing or providing access to confidential, non-public information regarding: (a) any NFL game or event; (b) any participating individual’s availability for or performance in any NFL game; or (c) any other conditions material to any NFL game for a gambling-related purpose, whether directly or through another person.”
Under those rules, anyone betting or sharing inside information could be suspended and even banned for life.
The league has said time and again that integrity of the game is its top priority. So why has it failed to act on Kornegay’s allegations – publicly, at least.
What is the point of insider trading rules?
Insider trading rules in finance are designed to protect all market participants. That includes the market-makers (equivalent of the sportsbooks) but also other traders.
“It was unfair, not only to sportsbooks, but to other bettors,” said Joe Asher, president of sports betting at IGT, about the Brady bets.
“The public was betting on other teams not knowing that Brady is returning and at prices that do not reflect his return. Given the embrace of sports betting by the leagues, and their profiting from it, we should expect them to investigate these sorts of issues.”
The NFL did not respond when asked if it was investigating the bets.
One rule for one?
It is an interesting stance, especially given how hard the league came down on Calvin Ridley.
“There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success than upholding the integrity of the game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time.
Does that not extend to the offseason? Perhaps that’s because the Buccaneers bets concern the integrity of the NFL betting markets, rather than the games themselves.
Regardless, with the NFL taking in millions from sportsbooks, should it not help protect the market and the 99% of bettors without inside information?
Growing problem for NFL betting
BetMGM trader Christian Cipollini also believes the NFL should tighten up its information rules.
“This feels like an unprecedented situation. But as legalized sports betting expands throughout the country, this could end up being more common,” Cipollini told LSR.
That is especially true as more star players switch teams in the offseason and futures odds swing wildly.
Of course books could always trade more defensively, cutting odds quicker and posting smaller limits. But that likely leads to a worse product for everyone.
Why have rules you don’t enforce?
This looks like an easy fix for the NFL then; enforce your own rules.
In the UK last year, footballer Kieran Trippier was fined $90,000 for telling friends to bet on him joining Atletico Madrid.
Investigating the Bucs bets would send a message that integrity goes beyond the games themselves. But in lieu of that message, the NFL might find the betting snafus just keep on coming.