In Atlantic City, A Sports Betting Snapshot

The first Sports Innovation Meetup (l.), held last week at the Tropicana in Atlantic City, examined the nascent world of legal U.S. sports betting, with an eye to educating the public on smart bets—using tried-and-true formulas combined with the latest data and technology to make those wagers.

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In Atlantic City, A Sports Betting Snapshot

As the nascent legal U.S. sports betting market continues to expand, educating the public on tried-and-true wagering techniques will be key to profiting from both casual and seasoned bettors.

That was the take from some of the leading bookmaking operators and media who are spreading the word about sportsbooks in the U.S., as sports tech venture capital company SeventySix Capital held its first “Sports Innovation Meetup” last week at the Tropicana Atlantic City.

For the first in what is planned to be a series of monthly Sports Innovation Meetups, Jess David, director of marketing for SeventySix Capital, moderated a panel that included Sharon Otterman, chief marketing officer of William Hill, and two of the leading media figures in the emerging sports betting market—Josh Appelbaum, sports betting reporter for Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN); and Aubrey Levy, vice president of marketing & content for Canada’s theScore, the first media company in North America to operate a mobile sportsbook in the U.S.

“The sports industry is booming,” said session host Wayne Kimmel, managing partner of SeventySix Capital. “We want to bring together entrepreneurs, people that are in the sports industry, and people who are interested in investing in the sports industry, to figure out ways we can all work together… We want to find those entrepreneurs, and we want to make investments in the sports tech industry, in the esports industry, and in the sports betting industry.”

While it’s been less than two years since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and its ban on sports betting, the industry is growing fast, Kimmel said. “Twenty-one states have passed laws (authorizing sports betting), including the District of Columbia,” he said. “You’ve got 14 states that are live right now. The amount of money that has been bet online and inside the properties has been incredible.”

The Sports Innovation panel examined how the sports wagering industry is evolving, and what needs to be done to promote “smart” wagering, while maintaining a profit for the operator.

Appelbaum, who last year authored The Everything Guide to Sports Betting, commented that VSiN, the information network headed by sports broadcasting legend Brent Musburger and centered at the South Point in Las Vegas, is combining the advice of seasoned Vegas bookmakers with information on how to best utilize the mountain of data that is available.

“At VSiN, our goal is to teach bettors how to make smart bets,” Appelbaum said. “It’s the Wild West of sports betting right now, where everyone’s trying to get into it. People want to bet, and all bettors lose when they start. When you lose, betting is hard, but you can really turn a profit long-term if you view it as a market.

“Betting is hard. But you can win if you’re disciplined and follow the data. We teach bettors how to make smart bets so they can make betting sustainable.”

“Our job is to empower the fan’s experience,” said Levy, who helped launch theScore’s sports media app and its “holistic mobile sports betting experience” that is now available in New Jersey. “How we’re approaching sports betting is very focused on creating experiences. TheScore is the intelligent sports network in Canada… We curated a younger audience, and devised a more authentic way of speaking to them.”

Otterman, a veteran of ESPN who was formerly chief marketing officer of the Madison Square Garden Company in New York, is currently overseeing William Hill’s plan to open a sportsbook/F&B lounge at Capital One Arena, home of the NHL’s Washington Capitals. She noted that sports teams are aware that wagering increases interest in their product, and while at ESPN in the early 2000s, “media companies realized back then that fan engagement increased if people had a more vested interest.

“Whether it’s a media company or sports company, it’s all about the consumer,” Otterman said. “That hasn’t changed, and it will continue to be the case, but how you engage the consumer is what has evolved over the years. Today, with marketing automation, really engaging the consumer through awareness throughout their journey is really important.”

While most wagering in markets like New Jersey and Pennsylvania is being conducted online, Otterman said retail sportsbook facilities are important in courting a younger audience. “When you talk to consumers today, they want experiences over things, especially millennials,” she said. “The William Hill Sportsbook at the Tropicana makes you understand why you want that in addition to having your mobile phone.

“We believe there is a place for in-person experiences, to get together with your friends, and still have that mobile, digital experience.”

In addition to the William Hill Sportsbook at the Tropicana—which offers the most seats of any New Jersey book—and the book at Monmouth Park, the book that will open at Capital One Arena will offer a lounge atmosphere with food and beverage in addition to the wagering, which in the District of Columbia must be done within a two-block radius of the sports arena.

Making Informed Bets

Media companies like theScore and VSiN are linking the age-old bookmaking art to today’s nascent bettors through education. “What I’m proud about working at VSiN is that we give the bettor the opportunity to make informed bets,” said Appelbaum. “Our leader is Brent Musburger, an absolute legend in the field, but what I love about VSiN is that I came from a very data-oriented field. With VSiN, we have some old-school approach based on things maybe you can’t quantify. There’s an old-school way of betting that I’m now learning about, which is awesome.

“At VSiN we give you both sides—we give you the old-school way of ‘capping games like you’ve seen in the movie Casino, but you also a new way of doing it. I have a daily podcast where I break down games. It’s very important to me to be honest with listeners and viewers… I’m excited about being at VSiN, because I have the data side, but now I’m learning from the true sharps, the true wise guys. The Brent Musburgers. Combining both is how you succeed in the long term.”

Appelbaum said he educates listeners on techniques such as “contrarian betting,” or betting against the trend. “You want to bet against the public, because the public always loses,” he said. “They may win here and there, but in the end, the house always wins.”

One strategy to accomplish this is watching line movements. He offered an example of a game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in which 80 percent of the bets are on the Patriots. “The Patriots open minus-7, but you see it move to minus-6-1/2, or minus 6… That would be called reverse line movement. So even though you have heavy betting on the Patriots, the line moved to the Eagles.

“That’s an easy way to locate sharp action. It will tell you that the sharps—who are experienced, pro bettors with a long track record of success—got down hard on the Eagles plus 7 to cause that line to move.”

Another example of advice Appelbaum offers bettors is to avoid parlay bets. “People love parlays, because they’re super fun,” he said. “But they’re also a huge moneymaker for the house. Basically, a parlay is tying multiple bets into one. You can cash out big, and make a ton of money. But when I was researching my book, I realized I never hit any parlays. If I have a five-team parlay, I win the first four, and I always lose that last one.

“It’s kind of a get-rich-quick thing. A hold percentage for an average major sports book is 5 percent. With parlays, it’s about 30 percent for the house. The house makes a killing on parlays, so I advise to avoid them. You’re betting to risk rather than betting to win.”

He also advises bettors to shop around for the best wagering lines. “If you’re going to buy a car, you’re not going to just go down the street and buy one from your local dealer,” he said. “You’re going to shop around and get the best number. With sportsbooks, whoever gives the fairest numbers, offers the lowest juice (the commission bookmakers charge on wagers), that’s going to be where the consumer goes.

“I think data is really important—being contrarian, shopping for the best line, and avoiding parlays.”

TheScore’s Levy notes that the other side of the emerging sports betting market consists of casual bettors who are not interested in studying the various betting lines and finding the lowest juice. “Our philosophical view is about the merging of mobile media and mobile betting together, and our philosophical perspective is that we don’t think anyone places a bet in isolation,” he said. “They place a bet as a component of some piece of their fan consumption and experience.

“We’re truly leaning into the casual bettor, providing an experience and user interface. If you just want to put $20 on the Knicks game, you don’t care (about the technicalities). Maybe that’s a good opportunity to seize upon.”

Otterman added that today’s in-play wagering adds a dimension to the wagering experience that has nothing to do with the traditional sportsbook strategies. “All that data and content integration makes things a lot more interesting once the game has started,” she said. “That will continue to be a bigger part of our business.”

Articles by Author: Frank Legato

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the humor book How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and a coffee table book on Atlantic City, Atlantic City: In Living Color.