Congratulations! We made it to the end of 2018. Contrary to what league commissioners told Congress in the past, we haven’t seen the world end or the fabric of society torn asunder because sports betting has expanded.
For those who follow our family of sites and made legal wagers in New Jersey and elsewhere, thank you. Handle for the four months of the NFL season will easily eclipse a billion dollars in the Garden State and grow as the calendar turns to January.
Now we get to the fun part: 12 teams, 11 games over four weekends, and one shiny Tiffany silver trophy for the Super Bowl champ. We begin with Wild Card Weekend, four games which all look competitive.
(Odds updated 12/31/18)
Colts at Texans (-2.5)
This will be the rubber match between two division rivals. Both road teams won exciting games this season.
Colts QB Andrew Luck enters 2-1 in the Wild Card round but lost his only road start to Baltimore in 2013. DeShaun Watson will make his playoff debut for the Texans, who have won three of four Wild Card games in franchise history, all at home.
There was some value discrepancy on this total at NJ sportsbooks when the lines were released.early value at DraftKings, 888Sport, and PlaySugarHouse all offer a half-point extra value to the under.
Seahawks at Cowboys (-2.5)
Seattle defeated Dallas earlier this year at home, winning 24-13 and covering the short spread. The game switches to Texas and the hosts are favored.
Russell Wilson has won all three of his Wild Card starts for Seattle, including two on the road, beating Washington and Minnesota. Dak Prescott lost his only playoff start in the 2016 Divisional Round to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
This is a very balanced offense Dallas has put together over the past two months, going against a defense that is a shade of the former Legion of Boom.
Bettors can find value with the totals early in the week. William Hill and PlayMGM offered a half-point extra value to the over on Monday, while BetStars gave that half-point to the under. Caesars gave the under a full point extra value.
Chargers at Ravens (-2.5)
Baltimore hosts this game largely due to their win in SoCal two weeks ago. The Ravens upset the favored Chargers 22-10 and gets the early kickoff despite LA’s superior record.
Philip Rivers enters 3-0 in the Wild Card round, including a 2014 win at Cincinnati. Rookie Lamar Jackson has replaced Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco under center in Baltimore and will make his postseason debut.
Like the other two games, there was some early value on the total. William Hill and BetStars offered a half-point extra value to the over.
Eagles at Bears (-6)
The only game that isn’t a rematch from the regular season pits the defending Super Bowl champs against the NFC North winners. Philly has won each of the last two seasons handily over Chicago, including last year where the defense stymied the Bears.
Nick Foles lost his lone Wild Card start against the Saints in 2014. Mitchell Trubisky makes his postseason debut for Chicago.
This game has seen early line movement for Chicago, which suggests some recency bias against the Eagles and the first real test this year of the local fans’ resolve. While Philly looks like they’ve found the magic from last January in winning three straight to qualify for the postseason, Chicago’s defense has been stout and defeated top offenses, including stymying Minnesota to keep them out of the playoffs in Week 17.
Placing your first bet on any online sportsbook can be intimidating. Thankfully, DraftKings Sportsbook is making sure that new players in New Jersey can ease into sports betting with a free wager to get started.
DraftKings Sportsbook is now offering to match all first bets onsite up to $500. This deal, which is more than double its previous amount of $200, will give players more freedom and flexibility to see how things work.
How the $500 First Bet Match works
This promotion is open to newly-registered DraftKings accounts (here’s a how-to guide to get started). Simply make a first wager and see what happens.
Whether that first bet wins or loses, a Free Bet for the same amount will soon appear in the player’s account. In effect, DraftKings is doubling the bet amount for the first go-round.
There are a couple of caveats, however:
- The first is the timing of the bet — a player must place his or her wager within 30 days of registration in order for the bet to be eligible.
- The other issue is that the Free Bet is not a negotiable instrument. Bettors cannot simply exchange the Free Bet for cash – the new money must be put back in play. However, players will keep any winnings from the Free Bet.
This promotion is active right now, but won’t last forever. Players need to be sure to make their first bet by Jan. 21, 2019.
What new players to DraftKings Sportsbook will find
DraftKings Sportsbook was the first online sportsbook to debut in NJ and it has maintained its dominance through innovative and intuitive design and operation. New players will likely be surprised at how easy it all is.
The first thing that greets players to the mobile site is the betting carousel. This design feature places bet suggestions on a wheel that mobile users can then rotate to see more options.
These suggestions are not just stock opportunities, however. Each player’s betting carousel is customized according to the player’s preferences and betting history.
The result is that no two players will experience the same DraftKings. Instead, each will find prompts for wagers they would be most likely to make, anyway.
DraftKings Sportsbook also offers incredible flexibility with its variety of wagers. Almost every type of bet and betting limit is available for players to craft their betting patterns. There are even betting limits that are less than a dollar.
Players also have options to guard against last-minute defeats or parlay legs that seem unreliable in hindsight. The DraftKings live ticket system allows bettors to cash out their tickets at almost any point during the game(s).
The bottom line is that DraftKings leading the field in New Jersey for a reason. With the site doubling players’ first bets up to $500, there’s no reason not to try out the sportsbook this month.
There was no shortage of major sports betting stories this year. Here’s our ranking of the top 10 for 2018.
Top 10 stories of the year
10. Haralabob to the Mavericks
We like to take a bigger picture view of things. Sometimes a smaller story has more significant ramifications.
Take into account Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris (or @Haralabob on Twitter).
Voulgaris is as close to a celebrity (non-touting version) sports bettor as there is. He’s a regular guest on the “Bill Simmons Podcast” with a healthy Twitter following and has no shortage of strong opinions.
Much like how the World Poker Tour and WSOP took poker players out of the backrooms and spawned new celebrities, the legalization of sports betting legitimized some of the more reputable gurus making a good living off the lines.
Mark Cuban snatched up Voulgaris’ analytical acumen for a Mavericks’ front-office job. Long-time bettors Martin de Knijff and Bill Edler are overseeing ways to leverage technology to make sports betting more accessible.
Something like the Haralabos hire probably couldn’t have happened just a few years ago. Sports betting is getting mainstreamed, and its best and brightest are benefiting.
9. The match
While the actual golf and commentating (save Charles Barkley) could’ve been better, The match featuring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson provided a template for where sports betting can go in the next few years.
This made-for-TV event was also made for betting. Betting information was integrated throughout the broadcast and embedded in the fabric of all facets of the competition (Side sauce, anyone?).
Expect more match-type events with greater fan interactivity and live-betting options in the future. Let’s hope the quality of competition meets the betting potential in the next go-around.
8. Newcomers innovating the market
Sports betting is legal in the US; Nevada must be leading the charge!
As it turns out, Nevada and its technology platforms are the ones who could learn something about sports betting in America (More on this in a later post.).
7. The battle for integrity fees
Has there ever been a less captivating battle than that of pro sports leagues lobbying for integrity fees?
This snoozer won’t go away and it’s understandable. The leagues want to monitor the integrity of their games to ensure the product is honest (fair enough) and charge a fee to do so for their financial benefit (obviously). Even college sports was looking into it (more obviously).
While some of this provided interesting theater, for the most part, integrity fees were like your Trump-loving, Fox-News-watching uncle at Thanksgiving: an annoying but unavoidable part of the discussion.
6. The technology acquisitions
The age-old question: do you build it or buy it?
If you have the money, buy it.
Acquisitions for prospective market entrants or to boost existing products were a sure bet with the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) repeal.
The Stars Group made a major chess move in acquiring Sky Bet. Paddy Power Betfair (Cougar Mellencamp) bought FanDuel. Scientific Games looked to enhance its product with the acquisition of Don Best (Was the boot camp not included?).
But if it’s not the acquisitions, it’s …
5. … technology partnerships
Hey, it takes a village, right? Whatever you have to do to enter a new market.
4. Pro sports partnerships
Wait, US sports league are striking sports betting partnerships, too?
You’re damn right they are.
As the year comes to a close, there’s been a whirlwind of deal-making for the pro leagues and operators.
The sports betting partnership model has existed for ages in Europe, but it’s a welcome sight with surprisingly rapid adoption in the US.
Pay credit to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for being waaaaay ahead of his contemporaries on this one (and knock NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for being far behind while sitting on the biggest betting cash cow out there).
3. The rise of new gambling content
By the second half of 2018, the sports betting floodgates had opened and there was no shortage of new gambling-related programming from companies looking to cash in on the new market. Fox News was in early. ESPN hopped in. Companies like VSIN were well ahead of the game. Um, TheLines.
While sports betting programming has focused on the obvious to start, it will get more interactive and inventive (think “Jackass” for money).
You can bet on that.
2. The early success of sports betting
You may find this shocking, but people like to gamble.
That’s the great thing about sports betting: everyone wins. Except for the losing bettors in New Jersey, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
1. The repeal of PASPA
Putting the repeal of PASPA as the top story of the year is as obvious as listing Nirvana’s “Nevermind” as the best album of the ’90s or the “Godfather” (Part I or II) as the best movie ever. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not right.
If it weren’t for the PASPA repeal, this list wouldn’t likely exist. It’s ushered in a flood of new money for content, marketing and advertising, and to state coffers.
The repeal of PASPA is not only the biggest sports betting story of the year; it’s the most critical gaming industry story of the century.
DraftKings got to the top of the DFS mountain by taking some chances and thinking outside the box.
One of the methods by which the industry leader gained notoriety was through its live final events. There have even been full-fledged documentaries memorializing the experience. And while DK wasn’t the first to host one, they arguably have gotten to the point where they pull it off better than anyone else.
The company took a similarly aggressive/innovative approach when entering the sports betting space. Chief Revenue Officer and Co-Founder Matt Kalish made no bones about the company’s goal to become the “best total value operator in sportsbook” as DK officially kicked off its sports betting product in early August.
Bringing a little DFS flavor to the sports betting space
The subsequent months have arguably been an unqualified success by and large for DraftKings Sportsbook, even as it’s still only available in New Jersey. Now, using a little bit of that same ingenuity that they’ve often applied on the DFS front, the company has found a way to hold a first-of-its-kind live final for sports betting that incorporates players from jurisdictions where the activity isn’t yet available.
“At DraftKings, the natural state of things is to look at everything as an opportunity for creativity and disruption,” said Kalish. “We looked at the sportsbook space and saw very little in the way of events. With our history running the biggest and best fantasy events every year, it seemed natural to find a way to bring that kind of experience to the sportsbook space.”
The first annual DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship unfolds in – where else – Jersey City, New Jersey on the weekend of January 11-13. Qualifiers are currently running in the company’s DFS lobby. However, there’s also the option of a direct $10,000 buy-in.
Some of the other logistics of the event include:
- Each participant begins with a DK-funded $5,000 bankroll.
- Players must wager at least $1,000 on Friday and Saturday, and at least $2K on Sunday.
- Wagers can be placed on any sport Friday or Saturday. However, all wagers placed Sunday must exclusively involve the two NFL divisional playoff games unfolding that day.
- Those requirements must be met in order for participants to retain a spot on the official leaderboard and qualify for the $1,000,000 grand prize, or for the subsequent payouts for lower finishes.
- All types of bets are in play, including “straight bets, parlays, fantasy props and more” as per Kalish. However, betting closes upon the kickoff of the second NFL divisional playoff game on Sunday.
- The player with the biggest bankroll at the end of the weekend is crowned the grand prize winner. Subsequent qualifying spots are also determined by bankroll size.
- The prize pool will be at least $2.5 million, with each direct buy-in above 531 entries increasing the prize pool by $4,700 apiece.
- Contest is single entry. The event will have a maximum of 1,000 entrants.
- All players take home the sum total of their bankroll at the end of the weekend. Those who have kept their leaderboard eligibility are also awarded any money they’ve earned through that channel.
Ensuring a level playing field
The Sports Betting National Championship will naturally have quite a few firsts associated with it. One of those is an educational component not found in DK’s live DFS events.
Despite their many similarities, sports betting – and how it’s laid out in the DK Sportsbook app — is in a completely different stage of familiarity as compared to the company’s DFS product for most that will attend the event, considering:
- Legal single-game sports betting outside of Nevada is still in its nascent stages.
- Many qualifiers for the proceedings will be migrating over from the DFS space. While conventional wisdom would dictate most have placed a sports bet before, there will inevitably be at least a handful that are considerably inexperienced.
- The DK Sportsbook app is only fully operational for New Jersey residents at present. It offers a wealth of potential wagering options – including a suite of in-play bets – that even some experienced players may not have extensive experience with. At minimum, many participants will be navigating the platform for the first time upon their arrival at the event.
Accordingly, the company is trying to ensure that no one is at a disadvantage from a knowledge perspective.
“In addition to the abundance of educational features already included in our easy-to-use app that help better acquaint customers with our product, we’ll be providing additional learning materials to all competitors,” remarked Kalish. “We will also have a fully staffed onsite area at the event for customers with any questions or issues that happen to arise.”
“Method to the madness” in contest rules, structure
As Kalish further explains, there’s sound reasoning behind each of the contest’s rules, even when it’s not evident on the surface. For example, the requirement that all final day bets must be exclusively on football stems from the NFL undoubtedly serving as the U.S. market’s most frequently and lucratively bet sport.
The fact that the NBA and NHL – the other two major sports in action at that point of the year – purposely keep their Sunday slates modest while pro football’s in season also played a role.
And as far as the wagering cut-off time on the contest’s final day? There’s a strategic element at play there as well.
“Closing betting at the kickoff of the last game will allow players and spectators alike to watch the last few hours of action with a clear picture of who could potentially walk away the champion,” Kalish said. “We want the final experience to easily display the necessary turn of events required to crown a winner, adding even more anticipation with each in-game moment.”
From the company perspective, that certainly makes sense. DK is naturally hoping this initial version of the Sports Betting National Championship once again positions it as a trailblazer in a new industry, with all the positives that could bring.
The company’s prior experience facilitating live, high-stakes sports-based gaming events was critical. Devising a final-day contest structure that engenders the type of electricity that’s made DK’s DFS live finals an industry standard was high on the priority list, according to Kalish. Especially for an event that DK certainly has a highly bullish long-term view on.
“Based on our experience with our DFS live finals, which we’ve been hosting since 2014, we think this will lead to a much more focused and exciting conclusion to the event.”
Lead image courtesy of DraftKings