It’s essentially Christmas Eve for sportsbooks and sports bettors across the US with the NFL season kick-off tomorrow. Hopes are high for record handles, waves of new customers, and, thanks to betr, micro-betting is the word on everyone’s mind.
In this roundtable, Callum Broxton, Head of US Operations at Checkd Group, Alexey Kildishev, eSports expert at Betby, Victor Araneda, Chief Business Development Officer at GAMING1, and Francesco Borgosano, CEO at Huddle discuss what realistic expectations for football are, the role non-traditional bets will play in the marketplace, and make some bold predictions for the fall.
The NFL season will almost certainly see record revenues hit, as more states open up to online betting. Are we set to see NFL betting volumes peak? Or are we nowhere near that point at the moment?
Francesco Borgosano, CEO of Huddle: I don’t think we’re anywhere near the peak in terms of betting volume just yet. That said, I certainly do agree with the statement that we’ll see record revenues. As the North American market continues to become regulated on a state-by-state basis, we’ll continue to see betting volumes grow but we’ll only see it reach its peak once all of the states are open to sports betting.
Callum Broxton, Head of US Operations at Checkd Group: Bluntly, no. As it stands, we’re nowhere near the peak of NFL betting volumes. The main reason for this is that a number of significant states are yet to pass legislation – California, Texas, and Florida in particular – and on population numbers alone, as soon as they join the party any previous peak will be dwarfed. Layer on to that the fact that over half of the NFL teams are located in states where online sports betting is either banned or not widely available and you’ve got a whole lot of space to the ceiling.
Alexey Kildishev, eSports expert at Betby: With online gambling becoming legal in more states, we’re bound to see betting volumes increase. I wouldn’t say we’re near the peak yet, as a lot of states are yet to legalize sports betting, and those that have are still in the early stages of development and are far from maturing.
Traffic is still growing significantly for sportsbooks, and American football holds a key place in both sporting and betting calendars across the country. We should see continued growth for some time, not just this season, but beyond as I expect the market to continue expanding for the foreseeable future.
Victor Araneda, Chief Business Development Officer at GAMING1: You can almost guarantee that we’ll see explosive growth in betting volumes this year. Having said that, we’re still a few seasons away from seeing the full potential of American football betting in the US. This aggressive growth rate is set to continue for the foreseeable future, but it won’t be this season when we see it starting to level out.
As a result of this, we’re going to start seeing an expansion in both the quality and quantity of markets for football.
Will NFL betting be dominated by win/loss bets or handicap markets, or will we see increased volume in prop bets and richer markets?
Borgosano: This season, I believe operators will continue to target more recreational customers, much like they began doing last year; yes, I do think we will see an increase in the volume of prop bets. However, I still think most of the betting revenue will come from traditional win/loss markets.
Broxton: There will absolutely be a surge of interest on prop markets, particularly player-based ones, this NFL season. However, it’s hard to see the main match markets ever not being number one. They’re the easiest to understand for the millions of new bettors expected to wager on an online sportsbook this season and also the ones people are most comfortable staking the big money on. That said, game and player props are the biggest bet types across social media, group chats, and bars because they’re so much more fun and engaging. All the noise will be about props, but most of the money will still be wagered on traditional markets, although the gap will continue to get closer.
Kildishev: While money line, spread, and over/under bets have historically been incredibly popular, not just in American football, but a lot of sports, we’re seeing a rapid increase in prop bet interest.
It’s something that attracts more experienced bettors, and ones that look for an edge with their bets. Casual players, by and large, will stick with the ‘standard’ markets.
For now, NFL betting is dominated by the usual suspects, but we’re slowly seeing a change. As players become more educated, we’ll see more prop bets.
Araneda: We should start seeing an increased trend of wagers in more sophisticated markets this year. We can still expect to see a high representation of wagers placed in traditional lines, which will be especially true for operators that focus more on casual players, such as our operations in Arkansas and Tennessee.
What’s particularly promising is the activity of younger bettors, many of whom are familiar with fantasy sports, and are now gravitating in greater numbers to prop betting. We’re seeing more bets based on individual player performance, which has the potential to overtake more traditional offerings like point spread.
College football holds a trickier place for operators due to a variety of regulations and restrictions, such as on in-state teams. Will this hamper sports betting in this market, or will national interest make up for regional hindrances?
Borgosano: While the trend on betting props is undeniable and, in my opinion, here to stay. I don’t think the ban on such betting products for College Sports will affect the popularity of the latter within the bettors’ community. College careers are intrinsically short and the interest is more around teams’ performance rather than individual athletes.
Broxton: The big losers here are the operators, not the bettors. College football is notorious for its inconsistency when it comes to player performances and you can be sure the operators will win big on these markets where they are available. There’s such a vast number of teams and players across this level of football that the bulk of bettors simply don’t have the time or interest to dig deep into player stats and place informed bets on them, as they would for the NFL and NBA.
Kildishev: Considering the average age of the participants, it’s pretty logical that betting on NCAA football is strictly regulated. However, this is also very state dependent, for example it’s illegal in Oregon, but there are no restrictions in Michigan.
The restrictions that exist, particularly on in-state games and teams, will see a drain on local customers, that might punt on their local team that they support. In states such as New York or New Jersey, this will lead to undeveloped sports betting in CFB, but also a potential growth area if they can get the regulatory approach right.
Araneda: The US’ passion for college sports will never go away and the sports betting industry knows it. This can also be seen in fantasy sports, which so many US sports bettors are familiar with.
On the other hand, most state regulators are still feeling their way through the more complex frameworks. I’m optimistic that it’s only a matter of time before we see more states address this gap.
Do you have any bold predictions for the upcoming season? Will we see another state break revenue records, or new products dominate the landscape?
Borgosano: I predict that we’re going to see Illinois become the second largest state in terms of sports betting revenue, it could even get close to the same amount of revenue as New York, even though the population is significantly smaller. That said, I also think Michigan could break revenue records if the Detroit Lions happen to have a successful season, their success will really help drive that market.
Additionally, I also believe this year we will see a drastic reduction in marketing spend. As the NY market consolidates, the focus of sportsbook operators is shifting on profitability, so I doubt we will see the bonus bonanza we experienced in the previous season.
Broxton: New York averaged over $1bn total handle in every single month after sports betting went live in January [save for July]. September is going to generate scary numbers and I wouldn’t be surprised if New York state cleared the $2bn handle mark for the month. For context; Louisiana, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Mississippi are each yet to hit that figure in total since they passed their respective bills.
In terms of new products, I think we’ll see huge leaps in affiliate products which significantly improve customer experience. Simple tools such as instant betslip links and live tracking are still not widely available, so there’s huge scope for gains there.
Kildishev: On the eve of the season, it’s hard to tell. We’ll see a growth in sports betting in Louisiana, as it’s already regulated, so the Saints should become a lot more popular. However, that is just a minor change. What I think we’ll see more of, is customers happily migrating between daily fantasy sports (DFS) and sports betting, now they have the opportunity to migrate in the same ecosystems, through large brands such as FanDuel or DraftKings. We’ll also see more and more of these one-stop-shop style brands pop up in the near future, bridging the gap between verticals.
This is what will drive US sports betting forward in the NFL season, as additional people look to have ‘skin in the game’ and back up opinions with bets. It’s an exciting time for US sports betting, and the dawn of a new NFL season will see everyone gear up for what will certainly be another record-breaking year.
Araneda: As this will be the first full season of football sports betting in New York, I’m excited to see how the deeper New Jersey competition reacts to this. It will certainly be telling whether their numbers will dip comparatively to last year. I’ll be on the lookout for more aggressive offers and promotions from them in a bid to re-engage some of their NY-based VIPs.
Elsewhere in the country, there is still a great deal of purely land-based operations that could benefit massively from an online sports betting offering as so many more opportunities come to light. That is why GAMING1 partnered with Delaware North to form Gamewise, providing regional land-based operators with a true turnkey solution to expand into the burgeoning online sports betting and online gaming space.