Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is making a mockery of Nevada sports books’ new Heisman wagering

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson looks for a receiver during Saturday’s romp over Florida State.
Photo: Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press

With Louisville resting on a bye week coming off of its first loss of the season, college football’s sixth week served as an opportunity for someone to emerge as a challenger to prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite Lamar Jackson. No one seized the opening, though, so the Cardinals’ sophomore quarterback maintained a sizable lead at William Hill US.

Nevada’s largest sports book operator kept Jackson at a price of minus-200 (risking $2 to win $1) in the Heisman future odds for the third consecutive week. Jackson sprung to the top of the betting board after the season’s first two weeks, when he scored a record 13 touchdowns. He’s hardly let up since then, adding 15 more scores over his next three games despite facing what the odds rate as his two toughest opponents of the year.

Louisville was less than a field goal favorite against both Florida State (a 63-20 victory) and Clemson (a 42-36 defeat), but Jackson erupted for a combined 819 total yards in the two games. Coming off a shredding of Clemson, Jackson got as high as a minus-275 favorite to win the Heisman at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Having such a runaway leader was not what Nevada sports books envisioned when they were first allowed to post odds on college football’s highest individual honor for an entire season. Heisman odds have long been a conversation point among fans, but they were only available for wagering at offshore casinos, due to Nevada Gaming Control Board regulations.

But the state changed its rules five years ago and began allowing sports books to propose event wagering or non-traditional betting types to the gaming commission, which could then approve or deny. Station Casinos went through the process with Heisman futures last year, and got approved to post them in early October.

Heisman odds became widespread this offseason, as nearly every sports book in the state offered them as part of a standard college football betting menu. Three of last year’s top six finishers in voting—Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and LSU running back Leonard Fournette — were unanimous favorites and the only choices below 5-to-1. But Fournette has battled injury, McCaffrey is stuck on a team that has regressed and Watson got off to a slow start.

While that trio struggled, Jackson rocketed up the betting board from an initial price of 100-to-1 at the Westgate. He opened at 75-to-1 at William Hill, which took only five bets at those odds, ranging from $2 to $100.

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is now Jackson’s closest competitor, listed as the second choice at plus-550 (risking $1 to win $5.50) by William Hill. Current odds, after adjusting for the house’s hold percentage, give Jackson about a 60 percent chance to win the award in December. That’s close to inconceivable with the season not even halfway finished.

Fournette was considered to have a monumental lead at this time last year, and he was only listed at odds of plus-160. He fell off drastically as the season went on, ultimately finishing sixth, with Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who was 25-to-1, coming on late to win. While that might sound like a cautionary tale on not trusting the odds, Jackson seems different.

Fournette started his decline when he struggled in LSU’s first loss of the year. Jackson has already gotten through a loss where he still looked like the best player on the field. The minus-200 price is as high as you’ll ever see through six weeks of the season, and it might not be high enough.

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