When it comes to sports betting, I’m not a whale. Let’s get that out of the way. But I ain’t a dwarf pygmy goby either (look it up). I’m a solid guppy in the sports betting waters.
But even as a guppy, it’s entirely possible I could’ve found myself in the position Connor Allen found himself in a few weeks back.
It was around 10:45 a.m. the day before the NBA draft, and Allen, a football analyst for 4for4 Football, started hearing whispers the Chicago Bulls were going to go off the board with their No. 4 pick and select Patrick Williams of Florida State. At the time of these whispers, Williams was +3000 to be the No. 4 pick on DraftKings.
“I figured at 30/1, it’s worth a shot,” Allen said. “So I put down $250, which would’ve profited $7,500.”
Except he didn’t get $250 down. DraftKings accepted $29.50 of the wager, and said the rest had to be approved. Again, we’re not talking whale stuff here.
Allen said it took about 15 minutes for the decision to come back, time in which his money was tied up. And when the decision came? He was nixed, and the odds dropped to +800, eventually closing at +200, and yes, the whispers about Williams were proven true.
Questions — and inconsistencies — abound
Allen was annoyed, but not surprised, as some of his other non-whale three-digit bets had gotten held up like this in the past. But what really got him? The next day, Allen saw a tweet of a screenshot from a bettor who got $950 down on Williams — paying out more than $29K — that was accepted moments before he attempted to place his bet.
We all know these things happen. Odds change and such, timing is everything. But what really got Allen was the partial acceptance. Why not the whole thing? Who’s in charge of limits? What’s his limit? Is his limit different from the guy who got down $950 without the bet being sent to the traders? Is he a perceived “sharp”? Does it matter?
The answer he got from DK — which he tweeted out — was less than satisfactory: “We understand any frustrations. All wagers must be approved before final submissions on all user accounts. This is the time when our traders will review this for acceptance. In the future, we would suggest trying to lower the amount wagered.”
Read that last bit again, and tell me if this is an industry that seems ready to be leaning into the “the customer is always right” portion of the program.
I get it, I really do. Sportsbooks are a business, they can’t be handing out money, but come on: Telling your customers to bet less money is nonsense, especially when your own house rules allow for bets up to $20,000 on bets such as these props. (The house rules also say “DraftKings reserves the right to limit the maximum bet amount on any bet …”)
In this case, DK — and virtually every other sportsbook — is attempting to have its cake, eat it too, and smush the leftovers in our faces. Look hard enough or get the right customer service rep, and you can find the limits on sportsbooks. Try to place a bet they don’t like — or, in some cases, be a sharp, real or perceived — and those limits are limited to ridiculousness.
Running into limits
“I hear you, and I agree, it feels somewhat un-American to not let everyone bet the same amount,” said Adam Levitan, the co-founder of EstablishTheRun.com, a DFS site that also doubles as a place for Levitan to write about his player prop bets. “This guy can bet $10,000 because we have him marked as an unsophisticated player and this guy can only bet $30 because we have him marked as a successful sports bettor.”
In fact, Levitan has already run up against this in his home state of Pennsylvania. He has found little to no problem getting wagers down with FanDuel or DraftKings, but BetRivers won’t let him get down more than $100 on NFL sides early in the week.
And while Levitan does see the other side — “they’re running a private business where they have a right to refuse anybody” — it doesn’t make it any less annoying.
Hence, my modest proposal: Sportsbooks should be very clear with each individual bettor as to what their limits are. Kind of like a menu. Clearly, the books have this information. Clearly, they are not forthright with it.
Imagine putting together a grocery list, taking the time to clip coupons and plan out what you’re going to buy, walking through the store, loading up the cart, taking everything out and onto the conveyor belt, having it ring up for $259.37, and then having the cashier tell you you’re only approved for $31. Would you have spent the time shopping at this supermarket, or would you have gone to a supermarket where you knew you wouldn’t exceed your limit? (It’s a rhetorical, though I did just remember I need butter and orange juice.)
This isn’t just a whale thing, either, as evidenced by Levitan’s BetRivers experience. And while I can’t remember details, I know this here guppy has run into limitations on player prop bets in the low (very low) triple digits.
Examples of sportsbooks doing it right
Some books are better than others in this regard: FOX Bet, for instance, offers you a chance to find out what your max bet is for any bet, right there in the betslip. On Monday night, I was approved to bet $5,494.51 on the Seahawks -6.5, $294.12 on Miles Sanders to score the first touchdown, $1,052.63 on Carson Wentz to throw over 1.5 touchdowns, and $1,811.59 on the Seahawks to win and Jacob Hollister to have over 10.5 receiving yards.
Clearly, FOX Bet knows — to the penny — how much they’re going to allow me to wager. So why aren’t the other books more up front with their limits? This isn’t 1972, with us living in a world where sports betting is in the shadows; it’s 2020, and betting on sports is on a straight-up path to being seen as an accepted hobby for the mild-mannered among us. Why make the limits process so opaque? (And why send bets to the traders on odds that are posted?)
Perhaps all the books should take a page from the new kids on the block, Circa. You walk into a Circa sportsbook, there are printed sheets detailing the limits. And there’s no “wait a second, we’ll be right back with new limits” nonsense. Doesn’t matter who you are; these are the limits.
“We understand the hard work a lot of players put in in making numbers and pricing things, and we want to be able to provide fair limits that make it worth people’s time to bet at our shops,” said Jeffrey Benson, the operations manager for Circa Sportsbook. “We might not have the biggest menu, but we’re very committed to every single thing we put up on the board. We’re committed to being tremendously transparent, honest, up front with the people that walk in our doors.”
Circa, which has been in business for 18 months — and has an online presence in Nevada and Colorado, and the limits are the same in cyberspace as they are in the brick and mortar operations — may be taking a different approach due to its management: Matt Metcalf, the director of the sportsbook, went from one side of the counter to the other between 2010 and 2018, when he was a full-time professional gambler.
“I really didn’t understand how much I loved the customer service part of the [sportsbook] job until I quit to bet sports and saw how a lot of bettors were disrespected,” Metcalf said in a Las Vegas Sun feature. “Not everyone was treated the same when they came in. It almost got to a point where I was offended on behalf of sports bettors, and I decided if I got back in the position, I was going to make sure I righted a wrong that had existed — not at all books, but many — for the last 20 years.”
And that’s what Circa has set out to do.
“We want to be as customer friendly as possible,” Benson said. “It doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship between bookie and bettor. That’s our calling card. Some other places don’t approach it from the same lighter view. But we believe the way we’re coming at it is a net positive for the industry.”
Bottom line: Don’t futz with limits
Well, good for Circa, and I look forward to them one day setting up shop in my state. But in the meantime? Other sportsbooks should really be taking a page out of Circa’s book: Be up front with limits. Don’t futz with limits based on who the bettor is. Don’t futz with “partial acceptance.” And if you are going to futz, give me my own personal menu so I know if I should be breaking down Jacob Hollister game tape or if it’s not worth my time.
“Transparency is always good, and it sucks when they lie about taking action from anyone and then not letting everyone bet the same amount,” Levitan said. “It would be cool to know.”
It would actually be more than cool; it would be exactly how every other business in the world operates. If sportsbooks want to continue their all-of-a-sudden out-of-the-shadows business, it’s time to shine a light on everything.
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