The New Roaring Twenties

The NFL season stretching into 2020 has unleashed soaring expectations among sports-betting operators, vendors, bettors and regulators

Call it Season Two of the Golden Goose: with legal sports bets thriving in the post-PASPA world, economic forecasts practically dance across the balance sheet.

A mere fraction of the states expected to legalize sports wagering have done so. The ninth, Arkansas, opened July 1, and the number of approved jurisdictions could double next year. Twice the parlays, twice the props and in-game wagering frenzy all look possible, and soon. Gamblers go deep—figuratively in the menu-option sense, and literally, with dollars spent.

Rarely has an industry salivated like this. Although sportsbook numbers are a small part of gaming revenues, revenue figures dwarfed the forecast for the market in the U.S. And everybody noticed.

Each new opening and every jurisdictional green light packs more than the emotional effect of a tape-measure home run or 100-yard kickoff return. This becomes a race to service the players.

 

Armchair Quarterbacks

“Hands down, this is one of the most exciting things anyone has been involved with in our industry,” says Charles Cohen, vice president of PlayDigital, sports betting for IGT, of the legal sports-betting era. He considers the industry awash in opportunity.

“Every day, it seems, another state is pushing forward legislation or passing it, trying to be live in time for the NFL season. We anticipate a pattern of a rush of states trying to be ready before that.

“What’s interesting to me is that in the American market, people bet on the sports to make it more enjoyable. The passion people have for their teams is unbelievable. I thought it was a big deal in the U.K., but when I see the interest here, I know it’s going to be a huge market.”

IGT has the B2B solution, the back-end technology that processes bets and connects all the information on the betting channels (over the counter, mobile, kiosks, etc.). The company thus joins forces with outfits like DraftKings and FanDuel, which have the customer-facing services like odds-making.

One of IGT’s contributions to this space is the Miosk, technology powering mobile kiosks that states are likely to adopt. Just as individual televisions help customers follow their favorite tracks at a book, Miosk (mobile kiosk) will give them the opportunity to bet right at their seats. It provides the technology of sports betting inside a device like an Android or tablet. The Miosk can be installed on the edges of an armchair, for instance.

IGT mobile-kiosk technology enables cash betting on personal mobile devices within casino sportsbooks. Casinos can maximize their sports betting revenues without big investments in self-service terminals.

Miosk uses sports betting vouchers with the same or higher level of security, auditability and control as TITO does for slots, and single transaction bet slips do for self-service and over-the-counter sports betting.

Miosk was slated for a field trial early in July in Mississippi and is a good bet for widespread deployment before the football season. Cohen believes it can address an overlooked aspect of the wagering menu.

“In-play betting is significant, but not nearly as big as it should be,” Cohen notes. “It takes too long to place a bet, even if you have a self-service kiosk, because you still have to get up and go to the machine.

“There are a lot of forecasts out there about how big the sports-betting impact will be. I’m not a forecaster, but every prediction I see has a lot of zeroes.”

IGT continues its role as a prominent early force in the post-PASPA world. The company forged tech agreements with brands like FanDuel, Draft Kings, MGM and Boyd. It powered the first lottery to add sports betting in Rhode Island, has gained deployment in six regulated states and thrived with its PlayDigital omni-channel PlayShot sports betting platform, a market-ready solution for operators looking to enter the U.S. sports betting market. The “50-state solution” emerged in 2018 as the leading B2B sports betting platform, and is leveraged by commercial, tribal, lottery and racetrack operators.

PlayShot’s design enables multi-state operators to create an integrated user experience that scales to meet customer and regulatory demands. Its geolocation technology can adjust to meet operator needs, and IGT supports an accelerated timeline so operators can quickly add sports betting to their offerings.

 

Bigger Steps

Scientific Games also has a significant footprint in this area. And the shoe size, so to speak, is getting bigger.

“Sports betting is clearly still on the rise in the U.S., and we’re seeing the web of technology and services that support it grow every day,” says Keith O’Loughlin, senior vice president, sportsbook for Scientific Games. “We think year two will mark continued expansion into new geographies, as many would predict, but also into new entertainment ecosystems. Everything is connected in our tech-savvy era, and sports betting stakeholders are starting to fuel that idea with some really cool innovations.”

O’Loughlin believes the first post-PASPA year tested the waters. Competition and quality of product offerings are poised for an uptick.

“We launched a handful of new partners, and they’re seeing great success in early-adopter states like New Jersey or Mississippi,” he says. “Getting your foot in the door is important, and many operators have made that initial jump. This coming year, I think we’ll see an explosion of new business, new revenue streams and creative ways of offering sports betting to the end user.”

Company research indicates that customers prefer in-game betting, prop bets and other offers that create a specific betting environment.

“It’s an exciting challenge to tackle, and we’re hitting it full-force with our teams, particularly OpenTrade, our Don Best-managed trading service, which offers expertise in the North American trading and pricing arena.”

O’Loughlin says Scientific Games redesigned its product suite to better serve the American market. OpenSports encompasses the best of the product portfolio and breaks it out into elements that customers can mix and match, he asserts.

“The core technology remains, but the ability to pick and choose what you need—or, just as importantly, what you don’t need—is a huge boost for partners. It removes a heavy tech lift and makes it easier to get a sportsbook up and running,” O’Loughlin says.

“Looking further down the line, we’re working on some new display functions that will reimagine how stats and scores are presented to bettors. Sports betting is overflowing with information, and the ability to condense it, package it and feed it back to punters in an easily understood format is the opportunity.

“Later this year we expect to release a full-fledged feature that reinvigorates this particular space in the sportsbook industry, and we think everyone—bettors and operators alike—will really enjoy it.”

 

New Playbook

London-based Kambi has figuratively broken the huddle to announce new plays for the 2019-20 NFL season. The innovations are being finalized and should be announced over the next few weeks.

As that process unfolds, the company is building on its 2019 success, which was based on early market positioning.

Kambi is a leading supplier of online and land-based sportsbooks to the regulated sports gaming industry.

Max Bichsel, the company’s U.S. director, believes Kambi has collected an unrivaled amount of data on wagering patterns and online betting behaviors that can be parlayed into new products.

“We’re working on some exciting projects that we hope to conclude shortly, certainly for the new NFL and NBA seasons in the months to come,” Bichsel says. “Early consumer testing has proven positive, so we can’t wait for everyone to try them.”

It’s not easy to spot this season’s breakout performer, but one star aspect from last year will likely be enhanced. Mobile went deep in 2018, dwarfing brick-and-mortar establishment performance in many locations. It made prop betting astronomically popular and easy, because the player essentially holds a sportsbook in his fingertips.

“This is one of the reasons we’ve been putting a lot of resources into building out our prop offering; in general, mobile is changing the way bettors behave and the markets they wager on,” Bichsel says.

“Mobile is driving in-game engagement as bettors double-screen—they like to watch the game on their TV while placing bets on their mobile. Last season, we saw some great traction with some of our in-game prop markets, including result of current drive in the NFL, total player points in the NBA, and next batter in the MLB. The volume on such prop markets will only grow during the coming season.”

Bichsel touts Kambi’s ability to give operators a “blank canvas” upon which to extend their brand and tailor their products to players.

“With sports betting being largely unregulated in the United States, Europe was an obvious early point of call for U.S.-based operators looking to launch a sports betting product,” he says. “One of the reasons Kambi has enjoyed early success in the U.S. is the empowerment we give our operators to create a unique product for their customers. They don’t want a one-size-fits-all sportsbook, and major companies such as DraftKings, Rush Street Interactive, Parx Casino and Mohegan Sun have a strong desire to control elements of the sportsbook and offer a product that speaks to their brand and values.”

Bichsel says Kambi offers operators the tools and levers to develop a differentiated sportsbook experience. He says the bonusing toolbox, which allows operators to produce unique marketing campaigns, as well as its price differentiation tool, which empowers operators to control how aggressive or passive they want to be in terms of the odds offered to their players, have been beneficial to them.

 

Building the Brand

Betgenius adds another dimension to the American market. The company has provided sports data and betting technology to licensed operators in regulated markets around the world. Now the London-based company prepares for a new wrinkle, according to Andrew Patterson, the company’s vice president of business development in the U.S.

“Same-game-parlay type products weren’t a part of the typical pre-game experience in the first football season post-PASPA, but we expect them to become industry standard in retail, on-site and via

apps in the seasons to come,” Patterson says. “Parlays are the preferred form of betting in many new U.S. jurisdictions, and this style of product enables bettors to get their accumulator action on a single game, rather than across four of five.”

The same-game-parlay product itself isn’t new, but the upcoming season figures to see its largest deployment in the United States.

BetBuilder, the company’s end-to-end solution, can be integrated into a book’s pre-existing match structure. This past year, the industry offered BetBuilder products on the NBA and major soccer competitions, Patterson says. But NFL, NHL and MLB versions will be launched in the near future. The market types on its football roadmap are wide-ranging, from the moneyline to the first-half winner to what team will score the first touchdown.

Patterson says BetBuilder adds an extra dimension to the pregame betting experience by allowing bettors to seamlessly create unique storylines which in effect play out as they watch the game.

“Football bettors are already doing this with moneylines, spreads and totals across a number of games, but with BetBuilder, they’ll be able to get that buzz on a single game and with more market types,” he says. “Generally, bettors can’t bet the moneyline with related markets like the first half line, but with BetBuilder they’ll be able to do so.”

For sportsbooks, BetBuilder is a differentiator in the market while delivering a profit. Bettors generally pick long-odds bets with at least three or four selections, and across each of those selections, the hold accumulates. It also maintains engagement among casual parlay bettors as the season progresses and games are scarcer, as in the postseason.

Patterson says another big trend in football is player props. Even with the NFL season roughly a month away, licensed operators have released hundreds of player-related futures markets, like Aaron Rogers’ season-total passing yards.

Patterson adds that bettors most often incorporate recent history against the spread and historical points totals into their wagers, but the shrewdest among them seek an edge with factors like team news and injuries, along with their own ratings systems.

The new age of legalized sports wagers is a world of angles, wrinkles and sudden opportunity. Sports-betting props resemble the wild-card element of table games and the bonusing component of slots.

In this big party, the more, the “moneyer.”

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Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.