The NBA Draft Lottery will take place tonight in Chicago, as the 14 teams that missed the playoffs all hope the ping-pong balls fall in their favor to give them the right to take Zion Williamson.
This is the first lottery since the league reformed the draft odds and the Knicks, Suns, and Cavaliers each have a 14% chance of winning the top pick. In betting terms, that makes for odds of +614. The other 11 teams also have progressively longer odds at landing the top pick.
Knicks: 14% (+614)
Cavaliers: 14% (+614)
Suns: 14% (+614)
Bulls: 12.5% (+700)
Hawks: 10.5% (+852)
Wizards: 9% (+1011)
Pelicans: 6% (+1566)
Grizzlies: 6% (+1566)
Mavericks: 6% (+1566)
Timberwolves: 3% (+3233)
Lakers: 2% (+4900)
Hornets: 1% (+9900)
Heat: 1% (+9900)
Kings: 1% (+9900)
(Note: Original odds have been updated after an initial error had them all +100 higher than they should’ve been)
Those are the real life odds to get the top pick, as dictated by math. However, in the world of sports gambling, the odds are very different, via BetOnline.
Now, in all situations in a sports book, the book is going to hold some form of advantage, whether through the vigorish (a standard bet is laying -110, factoring in the book’s cut) or by slightly lessening the odds in futures from what they actually believe to be the case.
With that in mind, many of these are reasonable, but it is truly preposterous that actual human beings are putting money down on the Knicks +350 (it was as low as +300), when they share the same odds in actuality as the Suns and Cavs, who are getting +600 (much closer to the actual odds).
One might ask why anyone would do this, and the answer is twofold. First, a sucker is born every day. Sports books profit heavily off of futures because fans are overly optimistic about their team’s chances of winning a title, or, the top pick. As such, they happily take every $10, $20, $100 flyer fans throw down in hopes of cashing if their team pulls off the improbable. In this situation, the book is preying on the hope from Knicks fans they’ll finally land the top pick as well as top free agents and become an immediate contender.
The second part of this is the long held belief of NBA fans that the lottery is rigged, despite the league doing everything in its power to refute that by providing a broadcast of the entire lottery process on tape — and having 12 media members in the room for the actual lottery process. Still, many believe the Knicks are the predetermined lottery winners and, as such, that is baked into these odds and that people are willing to light their money on fire with these bets.
Sports gambling is all about process. The best bettors play systems that are, on average, going to win in the 55-60% range, creating a strong profitability. That means finding edges and just trying to find value in lines that, 40-45% of the time aren’t going to actually result in a winner. Betting on the NBA Draft Lottery is literally the opposite of that, because there are no edges to be found and instead you’re betting against the math. Even if you win, you’re not going to match up with actual value.
As always, the buildings are tall and shiny for a reason — even the imaginary offshore ones.