Max Bichsel, VP of US Business at Group, will be speaking on a panel dedicated to US sports betting tomorrow as part of this week’s SBC Digital Summit. In advance of the event, he offered SBC Americas his perspective on ways in which the US business might learn from the UK experience.

Just when it felt as though sports betting was on the cusp of truly taking off in the US, along came a pandemic with the potential to wipe out 5% of the world’s economy and hundreds of thousands of people with it. 

Unless you’re a screenplay writer, you couldn’t make it up. The world was woefully unprepared, let alone the developing online US gambling industry, but that is not a criticism of a newly-regulated sector still waiting to explore its own potential.

The US is a sports-obsessed nation, so it’s only natural that licensed gambling operators would gravitate towards basic offerings on the NFL, NBA and MLB once the Supreme Court, in May 2018, struck down a federal law banning sports betting. 

With popular alternative betting markets adopted from the matured UK industry beginning to spring up – such as first NFL head coach to get fired next season and odds on player trades – the US sports betting landscape appeared to be heading in the right direction before COVID-19 struck. 

A sign of things to come

However, last week’s remote version of the annual NFL Draft provided American bettors with a wide range of markets on which to wager. With increased offerings, some bookmakers saw a ten-fold growth on their handle from last year’s draft. It’s surely a sign of things to come for the industry. 

But beyond sports betting there are endless avenues to venture down, and with most sports postponed for at least a few months it would be wise for America’s licensed gambling operators to take further inspiration from the UK betting industry, the biggest in the world. 

Second only to sport in the UK is politics. The future of political betting in the US – if there’s any future in it at all – has bags of potential but may never be allowed to flourish.

Betting on elections is an historic pastime, although for much of the past it has been conducted illegally. Its origins can be traced back to 1553 when members of the English public were betting among themselves on King Edward VI’s successor.

In the US meanwhile, betting on elections dates back to 1868 and is still going on, albeit mostly by offshore bookmakers which leaves bettors vulnerable and unprotected. But the bigger concern around modernizing political betting in America, legally, is the threat of manipulation.

It’s uncertain how betting odds on a candidate could influence voter turnout. Would those who have a bet on their preferred candidate be more inclined to get out and back it up with a vote? Maybe, but perhaps others would be put off voting altogether if their favored option had been written off with long odds. 

After years of legal betting on elections in Europe, there’s still no conclusive answer to how betting odds impacts voter turnout. But with so many sub-markets to bet on now, the ‘winner of next general election’ futures market has become less important.

When Irish bookmakers Paddy Power lost $5.5million on Donald Trump winning the last US Presidential Election – including a $1m early pay-out for those who had bet on a Hillary Clinton win – the company responded by offering more markets on elections and referendums going forward. 

In time, they began to claw back their losses. Other bookmakers soon followed suit and now it’s commonplace for every general election to be accompanied by a wide range of props bets across multiple operators.

For example, ahead of the 2020 US Presidential Election, with Paddy Power you can bet on anything from Trump having a US military base named after him (+700) to Alcatraz being reopened as a working prison (+1400).

A new level of entertainment

Many UK and Irish bookmakers actually consider suggestions put forward by customers. If oddsmakers can put a price on it, they’ll come back to you with a figure and make it public. This advanced stage of political betting has added a whole new level of entertainment to election betting. 

The legalized betting sector in the US is still too immature to be jumping right in with prop bets like these, but it does go to show that political betting can be done in a creative way without infiltrating the serious business – turnouts and results. 

Such creativity doesn’t stop at politics either. News desk inboxes in the UK are bombarded with press releases from bookmakers eager to push their latest props. It could be anything from odds on One Direction reforming before the end of 2020 to the latest favorite to succeed Daniel Craig as James Bond. 

Traders are quick off the mark too – every flavor-of-the-month is backed up with a betting market of some type. Brad Pitt to play Joe Exotic in the Tiger King movie perhaps? You can get +600 on that at Paddy Power.

Indiana and New Jersey have dabbled with betting on the Oscars, but in the UK you can place money on how many box office sales the next Batman movie will make. If Americans could bet on what would be the highest grossing film of the year, they would.

Acquiring casual customers 

In Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest is a big deal across much of the continent and for bookmakers the annual event is an opportunity to acquire casual customers who may otherwise engage in little to no sports betting activity.

For many, the Eurovision is an entertaining affair, be that for comical value because the music is generally awful, or for betting interest as the unpredictable nature of the contest provides bettors with serious value.

You can bet on almost any televised talent show too, including the very popular Miss World and Miss Universe. Similar entertainment can also be turned into betting attractions in the US if bookmakers get their thinking caps on. 

How does Major League Eating sound? The annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is already a popular betting event and could be expanded upon.

Betting on reality TV is surely only around the corner, with The Voice and The Bachelor primed for a whole range of odds. Meanwhile, state-by-state odds on whether there’ll be a White Christmas this year might interest even those with no intention of betting on the weather.

There is so much more to betting than sports spreads, parlays and over/under markets. The gambling industry is presently focused on the US adoption of non-sporting markets given the COVID-19 crisis, and the 2020 NFL draft has proven a turning point in the future of creative betting. 

Bischel will be speaking on the panel titled Alternatives for Sports Betting When Traditional Sports are Shut Down” on April 30 at 12.45pm – 1.30pm ET / 5.45pm – 6.30pm UK, the fourth day of the SBC Digital Summit. There is still time to register for the event, with company discounts available: