2020 is an election year so everyone needs to vote and make their voice heard. However, this isn’t a political blog and that statement is about as close as we’ll get to a PSA not related to sports gambling anytime soon.
It’s important for bettors, both new and old, to understand where we come from on many of the key sports betting issues. Of course we could sit here in our ivory tower making bold claims we know will never come to pass, but where’s the benefit in doing that? Maintaining realistic goals that allow sports bettors, operators, and regulators to coexist in the sports betting ecosystem while creating economic upside for each to sustain themselves is our primary focus. Unfortunately, it’s become all too common for a vocal minority claiming to be the voice of the common man masquerading as Robin Hood type figures making unrealistic demands of an industry still very much in its infancy outside of Nevada (or even in Nevada if we’re being transparent). Competition always serves as the driver of change in capitalism and we can only hope sports betting with the proper catalysts forges ahead eliminating misconceptions and poor consumer practices. Without further pomp and pageantry, here are my key agenda items that should satisfy operators and bettors alike.
• Posted Limits should be the norm, not the exception
– This has become a hot button issue frustrating both professional and recreational bettors. Limits are a moving target at every book and in every market; constantly changing by the hour. However, we propose a fix to eliminating confusion once and for all: posting actual limits by market! All of us have been to a casino, sat down at a table, and immediately known what the min and max bets were for table games because of the prominent digital displays. Sports betting needs to adhere to the same principles rather than operating in a nebulous grey area.
– Now, I know what you’re thinking, how do books handle advantaged players under this proposal? Again, the solution is straightforward; all players know the max they’re allowed to risk, so whether it’s $25 for a match-play promotion, $200 for Russian table tennis, or $2,000 for a NFL total, everything limit related becomes public domain. Books of course can always reserve the right to extend more aggressive limits to house customers or certain players like they’ve done for years based on a variety of factors. However, when it comes to everyone else, counter limits should be widely shared and distributed no matter how conservative or aggressive they might be based on a particular operators discretion.
• Every betting market has a winner
– This tenant is one we took for granted in the state of Nevada where every market needs to declare a winner (Kentucky Derby Pool, Heisman, etc may not offer the field but ultimately include all relevant runners to be listed before the event is decided). Unfortunately, we’ve seen states come on-line since legalization where this isn’t required allowing price gouging to become common practice. When you’re a bookmaker, it’s easy to inflate prices when you don’t have to worry about the take back and only move a number one way. Sports betting is difficult under normal circumstances, let alone when certain markets can offer the house 100% hold. Whether it’s a prop, golf top 10, or futures bet providing YES/NO, OVER/UNDER, etc needs to be the norm not the exception. That being said it will still be left up to the operator to determine a book’s pricing strategy in how they elect to offer straddles placing the onus on the player to shop for the best number.
– NOTE: Jurisdictions like Oregon, Washington, DC, Montana, etc with sports betting lottery monopolies should be held to an even higher standard or state residents will continue to wager in unregulated markets until a competitive product emerges. In addition to those players already viewing wagering on credit as a massive advantage, you will simply never convert those players if you’re not offering reasonable prices.
• Futures markets adhere to a maximum hold
– We’re not going to suggest a number here, but various gaming control boards need to enforce a semblance of customer protections. Everyone knows the age old saying; “it’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money”, but somewhere along the way a line needs to be drawn in the sand. When it comes to slot manufacturers, they tell clients that purchase their machines certain hold thresholds can’t be exceeded or it’s a poor reflection on the brand.
– At that point each casino, grocery store, gas station, bar then decides how they would like their pay table structured to either rob patrons without a gun or incentivize them with fair machines. For the airport audience, max hold is always the norm knowing those customers are playing out of convenience and impulse rather than brand loyalty, whereas your favorite watering hole wants players to come back so it gives them a better shake. We’re not here to champion minuscule holds of 1% for professional sports; if a book chooses to go that route, more power to them. Instead, we’re here to encourage a cap on the high end. Ultimately, customers can speak with their wallets by not betting into the highest hold markets, but for those new to the space it’s a crying shame if most of the industry wants to prey on new bettors. I can say from experience having worked for a boss that only wanted our book to lower future prices without raising others it often felt dirty leaving the office.
• Sports betting can’t enter new states without a mobile component and remote sign-up
– Knowing that a number of states are aggressively pursuing sports gambling to keep up with their neighbors isn’t surprising. What continues to baffle me is that states even consider introducing bills that don’t include mobile as the primary revenue driver. Although I do believe in the age of social distancing mobile that remote sign-up will become the norm simply because it has to if books are going to reap economic benefits. Just last week, we saw the state of Illinois accelerate remote sign-ups that wouldn’t have come to pass so quickly under normal circumstances. Of course it’s great that spots like Mississippi have sports betting after all these years, but how successful can it really be for generating revenues when players can only partake inside a casino and geographic pressure intensifies? The single greatest invention for the proliferation of sports betting is the mobile device. From around the clock access to dynamic wagering options, sports betting revenues only explode with mobile wagering and remote depositing. State governments are always going to do what they feel is best with a variety of pressures coming from all sides but introducing a sports betting bill in 2020 that doesn’t include a mobile component should be a non-starter; just like prohibition of betting on the in-state college programs…
• Preventing local college teams from appearing on the betting board is asinine
– The idea that local college sports teams are more susceptible to impropriety with legalized sports betting in their home state strikes me as absurd. Trust us, we know politics is as much about optics as anything else, but anyone looking to fix a Monmouth or Rutgers basketball game and betting it at regulated books within the state isn’t the brightest crayon in the box.
– If anything, you would hope the exact opposite occurred and people would be dumb enough to bet a compromised game involving local amateur teams given that irregular betting patterns sound major alarm bells. The perfect historical example surrounded the Arizona State point shaving scandal perpetrated by Benny Silman. It was the mass influx of ASU students heading to Vegas to bet the games in question that raised red flags and forced the proper authorities to investigate the impetus for such unusual line movement. “If gambling on colleges is (allowed) in 20 or 30 states, there is probably a 100 percent chance of a point-shaving scandal at some school,” Tom McMillan, CEO of LEAD1, an organization for athletic directors, said in April at a Sports Lawyers Association conference.
– McMillan’s statement is actually the kind of short-sighted thought process that needs to be eradicated among administrators. Had all of the money bet on Sun Devils’ hoops during the 93-94 season moved in the shadows, who knows what would have actually come to light, if anything? Unfortunately, when there’s a betting line and there’s money to be made point shaving is never off the table and steering as much money into highly regulated betting markets becomes the most useful form of long term game protection.
• State tax rates allow operators to offer a competitive product
– The Nevada model is far from perfect for sports betting, but as things stand right now it provided the original template for establishing a strong foundation that other states mirrored when launching their product. Full marks to the state of New Jersey and now Colorado for becoming major battle grounds among operators offering extensive betting menus with state of the art technology. That being said, for every Colorado that’s new to market there’s an Oregon, Washington DC, or soon to be Tennessee lurking in the shadows. Unfavorable tax structures and monopolies aren’t what sports bettors need, and honestly comes to paint operators in a poor light as well. It’s imperative for states interested in being taken seriously to offer competitive products. I know the math on -120 won’t impact a recreational bettor forced to lay $24 to win $20 instead of $22 to win $20 in the short term, nonetheless, as numbers grow larger and small bettors look to make bigger wagers, fighting a rigged system just won’t work. Sports betting needs to trend in the exact opposite direction; raising liquidity yielding more taxable betting handle allowing states to allocate increased revenues for various social projects and budget deficits.
• Federal elections are now fair game
– People are clamoring to bet the presidential election, but gaming control boards have rebuked the notion of that possibility. Earlier this year in West Virginia the market was available for all of about 15 minutes before eventually being shutdown pending further review. Truthfully, no activity legitimizes an event more than a properly regulated betting market. Neither operators nor bettors want to risk their hard-earned money on an event’s outcome if there’s even the slightest inkling the result has become compromised. There can be proper checks and balances put in place to monitor any market. If we’re going to let millions of people decide the political future of our country surely we have to trust the process and making it off-limits to bettors just seems short sighted.
Sports betting is far from perfect and we have a long way to go in this country. However, if we had this discussion five years ago, the idea domestic professional sports leagues could support expanded sports wagering would have been a pipe dream. There’s no doubt players are learning what they can and can’t expect in various states, while operators continue to tinker with business plans they feel lend the greatest upside. Asking for a perfect solution right out of the gate is unrealistic; all we can hope is that players, operators, and regulators collaborate in an open forum of some manner to take sports betting completely out of the shadows and turn it into a true past time that can be enjoyed responsibly in 49 states (Sorry Utah, maybe by 2057).