Wednesday 20 September 2023

Longshot Value and Luck

I love reading stories about individuals, or groups of people, identifying opportunities in the sports betting markets. 

I wrote about the "Hole-in-One" gang almost 13 years ago, a post which also mentioned the mispricing by bookmakers of the 3:3 draw in football, both great examples of people spotting a pricing error and making money out of it.

There was another story arguably in this category on Sunday in the NFL, with the sportsbook FanDuel offering 200-1 on every team in the 12 afternoon games to make at least one field goal. 

The probability of this happening were later calculated at 0.84%, so the fair odds "should" have been around 118-1. 

I say 'later calculated' because at the time, the person identifying the opportunity wasn't aware of the true probability. His interest was guided by intuition - "I probably see tens of thousands of these betting slips but this one stuck out" - and was confirmed, at least to some extent, by checking the same bet at DraftKings, and finding that the odds on offer there were just 30-1. 

It's not clear if this was first Sunday when this bet was available and / or identified, but if it was then the backers were very fortunate, and the sportsbook very unfortunate, with the timing given that previously in the past 20 seasons there had only been one Sunday in which every team in the afternoon games made at least one field goal. With 17 weeks in a season, this means it's an outcome that has only occurred about once in 340 times. 

That one day was the rather special date of 10/10/10, with the number 101010 being 42 in binary, and thus the answer to the "Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything."

The full story of how the bet played out is written by David Purdum, and is available both below and at the ESPN site here
The buzz in the betting community began early Sunday morning when bettors discovered value on an unusual long shot NFL prop bet.

The bet: Every team in the 12 afternoon games to make at least one field goal. The odds: 200-1 on FanDuel. By kickoff of the early games, more than 21,000 bets had been placed on the field goal prop. Almost all of them were small in nature, five or 10 dollars, although there were a few of the larger variety. Regardless, paying out $200 on every $1 bet adds up quickly.

Late Sunday afternoon, when New York Giants kicker Graham Gano lined up for a 34-yard field goal with 19 seconds left against the Arizona Cardinals, FanDuel found itself on the hook for more than $20 million, one of the sportsbook's largest payouts ever on a long shot NFL prop bet. Here's how it went down.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, a member of the popular sports betting Discord "GoldBoys" flagged the field goal prop as something to consider. The bet caught the attention of a co-owner of the Discord, an experienced bettor who asked to be referred only as J.D.

"I probably see tens of thousands of these [betting] slips," J.D. told ESPN. "But this one stuck out."

J.D. first checked the same field goal prop at DraftKings, where the odds were only 30-1. With FanDuel offering 200-1, he became more intrigued. Next, he called a small group of trusted betting consultants. With their support, J.D. placed two bets, risking a total $1,584 on the prop at 200-1 odds for a chance to win $316,800. At 10:01 a.m., he told his more than 160,000 followers on X that the bet was "worth a dollar."

Bettors jumped into the comments, asking where to find the prop, which was listed under a tab on FanDuel's app labeled "Red Zone specials." Pictures of bet slips on the prop showed up in the comments, one after another, even as the odds began to shorten. $5 to win $900. $20 to win $3,600. $100 to win $20,000. A FanDuel spokesperson said, out of the more than 21,000 wagers that were placed on the field goal prop, the average size of the bet was $6.

For J.D., it turned into the largest score of his 15-year sports betting career, and it came on a bet he admits that he didn't know actual probabilities behind. He had asked a consultant that analyzes expected value but didn't receive a "scientific answer." J.D. didn't know the probability, so we asked ESPN Stats and Information:

Over the past 10 seasons, 81.9% of teams have made at least one field goal in a game. So, using that baseline percentage, on an afternoon slate featuring 12 games, like this past Sunday, there is a 0.84% chance that every team makes a field goal on an afternoon slate featuring 12 games, like this past Sunday.

The 200-1 odds offered by FanDuel on the field goal prop implied a 0.5% probability. This was too juicy for J.D. to resist.

"The only two things that actually scared me were the Giants and Jets," J.D. said. "Obviously, the Giants got shut out the prior week, and the Jets scared me because I didn't think they were going to put up too many points against the Cowboys.

"But I think typically the odds on that play are between +1,600 and +1,800, and with the DraftKings price being +3,000, I was like, 'all right, I think this is worth a shot.'"

J.D. had a plan for his field goal bet. If it lasted through the 1 p.m. kickoffs, he would look for a way to mitigate his risk and lock in a profit with a hedge bet on the late games. One by one, teams kicked field goals in the early games, causing an afternoon sweat for bettors who jumped on the FanDuel prop. Washington Commanders kicker Joey Slye missed an early attempt against the Denver Broncos but later redeemed himself. The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers each kicked field goals in the first half of their games, as did the Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets. As the 4 p.m. kickoffs wound down, the only team that had not yet made a field goal was the Giants. J.D. was excited but focused on executing his plan.

The Cardinals had led for most of the game but squandered the lead late. J.D. watched as the Giants moved into field goal position with score tied 28-28 and under a minute to play. As Gano prepared to line up for a short field goal, J.D. said he placed a $20,000 bet on the Cardinals at around 10-1 odds to win the game.

If Gano made the field goal, it would complete the prop bet, and J.D. would win $316,800. If Gano missed, J.D. planned to do an early cash out on his $20,000 bet on the Cardinals.

"I was going to make a profit there," J.D. said. "But I was happy to lose the $20,000 (on the Cardinals) and celebrate with everyone else."

After Gano's field goal went through the uprights, the final kick to complete the prop bet, the GoldBoys Discord crashed because of the influx of traffic. J.D. said he has received over 3,000 direct messages on social media and has struggled to get to them all.

"Everyone was going nuts," J.D. said. "It was my biggest score, but I actually value the members winning more than my own win. I know you might think I'm just saying that, but I'm genuinely happy for the people who won."

And there were lots of them, more than 21,000, many of whom bet a little and won a lot on an unforgettable and improbable Sunday.

In the past 20 seasons, there have been only two Sundays in which every team in the afternoon games made at least one field goal: Oct. 10, 2010, and Sept. 17, 2023.

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