NBA Draft Lottery: There Is No Value Betting on Ping-Pong Balls


Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Highlights

  • Sportsbooks are offering odds on which NBA teams will land the first overall pick in Tuesday’s draft lottery.
  • By comparing odds and true probabilities, betting on the draft lottery is negative expected value.

The NBA Draft Lottery takes place on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. I don’t like using this word because of the negative connotations, but if you wager on the outcome of Ping-Pong balls you are a degenerate!


Oddsmakers are offering a variety of lottery-based proposition bets. Fourteen teams have odds to get the No. 1 pick. If you are tempted to place a bet, don’t be silly. There is no value gambling on the NBA Draft Lottery.

With most sporting events the outcome is uncertain. That is true with the lottery as well, but the probabilities of each team getting the 1st pick are known.

Traditionally, bookmakers offer prop bets, and bettors place wagers on sides they feel are offering value. However, with the lottery there is no value.

The Phoenix Suns, after successfully tanking to a 21-61 record that included going 3-20 after the All-Star break, are the favorites at +285 to get the first pick in the draft. The implied probability of the Suns getting the top pick is 26%.

The NBA uses 14 Ping-Pong balls to create 1,001 possible combinations of winners. The team with the worst record has 250 combinations or a 25% chance of receiving the No. 1 pick. Thus, there is no value in betting the Suns at +285. The same is true for every other team.

I’m not saying you can’t bet the lottery. The Ping-Pong balls can bounce in funny ways. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the top pick in back-to-back years (2013-14) despite having the third-and ninth-best odds. Just know you don’t have an edge and wagering on these props has negative expected value.

Pictured: Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker at the NBA Draft Lottery

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