The landscape of U.S. sports betting expansion already was a fast-moving one over the past two years, even before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic scrambled matters that much further.
So 76 Capital, a sports and technology venture capital fund, featured a remote panel of experts last week to discuss what’s next for the burgeoning industry.
Matthew Holt, the CEO of sports betting monitoring firm U.S. Integrity, noted during Friday’s “The Future of Sports Betting” panel that a “massive shift” away from brick-and-mortar sportsbooks to the mobile version already was underway before mid-March casino shutdowns due to the pandemic.
But Holt added that the likelihood that the current environment will accelerate that shift is “advantageous” for sports leagues seeking to combat potential fraud related to their athletic contests and wagering.
With mobile betting — as opposed to cash wagers on sportsbook teller windows — Holt said of his company’s partnerships with major sportsbook operators, “We get all of their betting data, every single bet that they make, and we’re able to analyze it and regenerate it into all sorts of reports.
“The more people who sign up means so much more transparency, as you know what the history is on each account,” Holt added. “So from an integrity standpoint, this migration away from brick-and-mortar bets is actually a good thing for integrity purposes and data analysis.”
The more mobile betting, the better?
Evan Davis, a former executive for SugarHouse casino in Pennsylvania when that state legalized sports betting, agreed about mobile’s benefits.
“The advent of mobile is a great thing,” Davis said. “And ‘in-game betting’ is really where the future is — what will happen in the next inning, or who wins the 9th hole of a golf match. It all encourages further engagement with the sport.”
Davis said that fans “starved” for their favorite sports after a nearly three-month moratorium create a potentially massive opportunity for major sports to produce new betting customers as well.
Ari Evans, the founder of Maestro — a streaming platform with an emphasis on esports — said that in-game betting will continue to be boosted by consumers’ increasing ability to make a wager while watching a live-stream feed of the contest.
“Even more of those obstacles will be overcome in the next three to six months,” Evans added. “The time off has given the leagues time to spend thinking about preparation. The top leagues have been asking about betting and fantasy integration for next season.”
Holt said that proof of a pent-up demand for sports was shown by a recent Ultimate Fighting Championship card’s results.
“The card did the second-highest numbers ever since the sport got onto ESPN — and that’s without any stars heading the card,” Holt said. “The betting handle was equated to what you’d see for a Monday Night Football game handle.
“It’s just because people are so eager to bet on live sports. The appetite for live sports and the ability to wager on them hasn’t wavered one single bit during COVID.”
What’s next for mobile sports bettors
Evans said live-streaming rights to games for bettors is appealing to sports leagues — but with a twist. He said he doubted that the NBA, for instance, would be quick to incorporate a direct gambling element to its League Pass app.
That’s not too surprising, since the top four traditional sports leagues and the NCAA spent six years battling implementation of New Jersey’s sports betting law until the U.S. Supreme Court settled the matter in 2018 in favor of the state.
“It’s more about licensing, and letting someone else do it,” Evans said.
Davis and Evans also point to further advances in personalization of experiences for sports-minded consumers.
“Betting will come in layers where an individual viewer can choose to opt in to their own experience,” Evans said. “Maybe it’s a fantasy player, or a bettor, or someone who just wants to be social.”
Panel moderator Mike Schreiber said he looks ahead, for example, to someone betting on whether the 76ers’ Ben Simmons will score 30 points in a game being able to receive an in-game stream specifically focused on Simmons.
Sports fans and their varied grasp of sports betting
Davis recalled that while at SugarHouse, he was struck by the breadth of consumer awareness as sports betting launched — from those who clearly already were experts, to those who only knew how to bet on NFL parlays because they were legal previously in Delaware, to diehard sports fans who had never made a single bet.
That presents both a challenge and an opportunity, Davis added, because figuring out how to break through to the latter fans will be a key.
“Betting on an app is an intimidating experience for those who haven’t done it before,” Davis said.
Evans said his recent efforts to more closely follow horse racing — which was only partially upended during the pandemic — make him sympathetic to the casual fan’s plight. He said streams will be produced that provide information for beginning bettors, with a gradual withdrawal from those guides as the bettor becomes more comfortable understanding the options.
With that, said Holt, will come more specialized marketing, too. So if you place a bet on Pat Mahomes’ passing yardage, you might receive a pitch to buy a Mahomes jersey, or an offer to purchase game tickets for the next time the Chiefs visit the Raiders in Las Vegas.
While Davis said that privacy issues regarding athletes who wind up testing positive for COVID-19 will be complicated, Holt said there is room for compromise.
“We should know who’s available [to play], and who’s not,” Holt said.
Pandemic’s role in betting expansion
A sidelight of the pandemic in the long run, according to Holt, is that more states may look to legalize sports betting more quickly.
“States need extra revenue, and now they’re able to bring in more jobs,” he said.
Predicting the pace of that expansion is a popular parlor game in the gaming industry, and Holt decided to throw his hat into the ring.
“My gut feeling is that by 2022, there will be 40 to 42 states offering sports betting,” Holt said.