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Why There Is No Value Betting on the NBA Draft Lottery

May 14, 2019 4:50 PM EDT
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Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: A general view during the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery at the Palmer House Hilton.

  • The Cavaliers, Knicks and Suns are +500 favorites to win the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
  • By comparing the odds to the true probabilities we show that there is no value wagering on the lottery.

Zion Williamson is the presumptive No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft. On Tuesday, the bouncing of ping pong balls during the NBA Draft Lottery (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will determine which franchise will have the opportunity to select the former Duke superstar.

The 14 teams that did not make the postseason are eligible for the lottery, and FanDuel Sportsbook is offering odds on each of these squads to get the No. 1 pick:

The Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns are the favorites at +500 odds. But if you are tempted to place a wager, don’t do it! 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 first pick are known.

Under a new NBA Draft Lottery system that takes effect this year, the odds at the top of the lottery have been leveled so that the three teams with the lowest regular-season winning percentages each have a 14% chance of receiving the No. 1 overall pick. In previous lotteries, the team with the worst record had a 25% chance of winning.

The odds for the remaining participants in the lottery gradually reduce after the top three.

Traditionally, oddsmakers post prop bets, and bettors place wagers on sides they feel are offering value. However, with the lottery simple math tells us there is no value.

At +500 odds, the implied probability of the Cavs, Knicks or Suns winning the lottery are 16.7%. But we know the true chance for any of these teams having the ping-pong balls bounce in their favor is 14.0%.Thus there is no value placing a wager at +500 odds.

The same is true for every other team in the lottery.

I’m not saying you can’t bet on these odds — ping-pong balls have been known to bounce in funny ways. The Cavaliers won the top pick in back-to-back years (2013 and 2014) despite having the third- and ninth-best odds, respectively.

But if you do end up putting down some cash, just know you don’t have an edge and placing a wager is true gamble.

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