“Be so completely yourself that everyone else feels safe to be themselves too” —Unknown
We have a new player in the sports betting conference space and his name is Spanky. He isn’t a hedge fund, a private equity firm, or any of your typical conference controller behemoth type of things. Nor is he a professional conference company that applies a common template across various conference verticals. He is just a very tough and very smart man who has an attitude that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things—oh—and there is a Spanky way of doing things. Bet Bash II was an example of that Spanky way of doing things. Look out world, the conference space is getting real.
There was something unusual about Spanky being in the sports betting conference business in that he had essentially no experience in conferences and a huge amount of experience in sports betting. That is materially backward from the norm. And when I say he knows about sports betting, that is like suggesting that Einstein understood physics. Spanky has forgotten more about betting than most in the industry will ever know—and he learned it by doing it—and what he could not do, he tried to invent.
Spanky is also a curious sort. If a person is involved in sports betting and is interesting, Spanky will find that person no matter where he or she is on the planet. And for Bet Bash II, he found close to 400 people.
Spanky is this wonderful bundle of contradictions ranging from tough as nails to possessing an incredible abundance of warmth. Captain Jack Andrews, himself a well-recognized sports bettor, suggests Spanky possesses a superpower – and that superpower is the ability to disarm essentially anyone by Spanky simply being Spanky.
I once suggested to Susan Hensel, a highly regarded gaming lawyer, and advisor, that a person could find softer spots in a brickyard than Spanky. Susan, who is possibly the only woman to have attended Bet Bash I and II, said she found Spanky to be “a smart, lovely and charming person.” Once again, Susan’s insight was more thoughtful and accurate than mine.
Since the end of Bet Bash II, I have been working to understand how Spanky pulled off such an informative, entertaining, and just plain fun event that not only had people on the edge of their chairs listening to conference sessions but also brought networking to a new level. One of many fascinating elements of Bet Bash II was the broad swath of people who attended. Sharps, wanna’ be sharps, casual bettors, advantage players, old-timers, a spattering of industry consultants and even academicians participated in the event.
Harry Crane, a statistics professor who is a gifted practitioner in both the art and science of statistics and probability, made the astute point that Spanky did not allow his vision for Bet Bash II to be taken over or compromised by anyone else’s interests. In the conference world, the motivation is to be profitable. This generally demands concessions to different interests and entities concerning development, content, and participation. In Spanky’s world, there were no concessions. His model was to do it right – the Spanky way – full stop.
Both Susan and Harry also noted the interesting array of people who attended this event held at Circa Las Vegas, ranging from the young to the old, from the bookie and the bettor sides, the pros and the amateurs, and the technologists. The one common element both observed was that what Spanky did was assemble almost 400 people who were all passionate about betting – that was the common element and that was Spanky’s whole agenda. Moreover, and this was everyone’s observation, Spanky was in the middle of it all and his passion for sports betting was infectious.
If a person at Bet Bash II did not meet and shake hands with Spanky, it was not for want of trying on Spanky’s part. He was the greeter at every event and was always available to attendees. He was not giving ego aggrandizing speeches and the like, but just being there making sure everyone felt they belonged. As Captain Jack noted with a simple understatement: “Spanky was an incredible host.”
There was no apparent hierarchy at Bet Bash II, no big deals who demanded additional attention or homage. Just a whole bunch of folks who wanted to learn more about betting—and everyone wanted to learn more about betting. It was again Harry’s observation about Bet Bash II that it was unlike a normal conference where many in attendance needed to attend. He argued that at Bet Bash II everyone wanted to attend.
There were a few curiosities about the event. There was a real shortage of those expert consultants on betting who run their mouths about their brilliance across the country. I understand why they were not at Bet Bash II. The main attributes of the overnight expert group are that they have never made a living from betting on either side of the counter, never regulated betting, and/or are crummy at math. There probably wasn’t much happening of interest or to monetize at Bet Bash II to entice these folks to attend and the people who were attending Bet Bash II could not be bullshitted by these folks like the press, the politicians, and the lay public. No, it was best this group kept their distance.
There was also an absence of those who seem apt to take credit for things one may question they should take credit for, such as those folks who claim they got PASPA repealed. Many people surely did contribute to this effort but they were associated in some way with what was at the end of the day a determination of law not public relations and other rhetorical efforts. It is amazing what nonsense people are selling in the betting space these days—but I digress.
There was also something of a lack of sportsbook operator involvement, and that too makes sense, for it seems for many operators there is much they do not want to explain to their constituencies. Credit is due to the operator or two who did participate but the consensus was that many of the operators in America have generally made it quite clear that they are not overly interested in the opinions and thoughts of the people consuming their sports betting products.
An exception to this was the Circa Resort and Casino and its sportsbook team. Circa was all-in on this event, and that was an interesting decision. Circa is a fascinating company that is building a brand and, during the brand-building process, companies are often careful about associating with unknown products—and Spanky’s Bet Bash II was an unknown product.
In this case, the association was brilliant and Circa was very at ease with having some of the best thinkers on betting on the planet within the building. Moreover, Derek Stevens, the brains behind Circa not only threw his incredibly talented people into the mix, but he enthusiastically joined in as well. Associating with Bet Bash II added to Circa’s already material street cred and that street cred in the sports betting world is getting stronger and stronger. Like so many sports betting providers, Circa knows what to say to sound like a world-class betting place. What distinguishes them is they also know what to do. Linking up with Spanky was brilliant and an act of incredible respect on the part of both.
When I left Bet Bash II, I knew I had participated in something special, and I struggled to describe it. In talking this over with Harry in a phone conversation that lasted well over an hour, he used the term passion repeatedly. There was also a Tweet on April 5, 2022, by Captain Jack in which he repeats the real question about Bet Bash II: “why did Spanky do this?” He then answered the question with the simple sentence “For the love of sports betting.” Both Jack and Harry got this exactly right.
The thing that I did note was the authenticity of the participants. People were basically honest as to who they were and freely admitted to being bonus hunters, sharps, advantage players, casual bettors, and the like. One does not seem to find this honesty at a normal conference.
In discussing the conference with Susan, she noted that what interested her was how Spanky identified the need to have a betting conference for people who love and want to understand betting—and to do so in a way to share that interest with others. She suggested it was surprising that no one else had yet thought to target this market.
Susan tends towards logical thoughts like this. She then added, “I can’t wait until Bet Bash III.”