When Tennessee proposed a mandatory 10% hold requirement to run a sportsbook in the state back in 2020, the industry collectively said that expectation was impossible. Conventional wisdom at the time was that Nevada’s 5-6% hold rate would hold true across the US, so a number that is almost double that seemed impossible to hit on a consistent basis.
Since then, national sports betting hold has proven to be slightly higher than what Nevada rakes in, but 10% remains an unusual outlier.
Which is why September’s hold across states is particularly interesting. In every state that has reported so far, save for New Hampshire and Nevada, hold has exceeded 10% (this does exclude some big markets like Illinois, which has not yet reported).
In a state like Delaware, where only parlay wagering is available, high return is the norm. For the majority of these states though, this outlier month, which is currently the highest monthly average hold since the repeal of PASPA, teaches us a few things about where the industry is going.
Rovell: Worst year of public NFL betting in 20 years
For Action Network’s Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell, the record month is an indication of a couple of national trends he is seeing in the sports betting community. Most notably, people have just not been very good at betting on the NFL so far this year.
“This is the worst year for public bettors in 20 years,” Rovell said. “In games this season where at least 51% of the bets are on one team, including on the Pats [Monday], those teams are now 43-61 (41.3%) against the spread.”
Just one look at the Circa Survivor pool can tell you a lot about just how wild the season has been. Just 125 entries from over 6,000 remain, whereas this time last season, just under half the entries were still in the running:
These outright losses by heavy favorites impact more than just survivor contests. There is not a ton of appetite for moneyline bets on these double-digit favorites on their own, but they are an important part of another type of bet.
Big moneyline favorites anchored many NFL parlays
“When popular favorites go down in flames, it’s pretty much guaranteed sportsbook operators will have a good week. One reason for that is because moneyline parlays also go down in flames,” explained VegasInsider Senior Reporter Patrick Everson. “Public/recreational bettors like moneyline parlays, and they especially like adding big favorites onto those tickets, figuring it’s practically free money, an easy way to potentially — albeit modestly — boost the payout of a parlay ticket. The team doesn’t have to cover the spread; it just has to win the game.”
Parlays offer huge returns for books. Rovell noted that in Nevada, parlays can hold roughly 30%, which he pointed out, “is a better return than any table game.”
When parlays are anchored by what should be easy winners, those rates skyrocket even higher.
“In Week 3, the Bills and Chiefs — the two most popular public teams in the league — lost outright, at Miami and at Indianapolis, respectively. Add up those three weeks, and you arrive at very good September hold rates for sportsbook operators. Of course, there are other contributing components — teasers, same-game parlays, etc. But as a general rule, when popular public teams lose outright, bettors are in for a rough week, and bookmakers pad their hold rate,” said Everson.
Same Game Parlays driving up hold year-round
Everson mentioned Same Game Parlays, which should be treated as a different part of the discussion when it comes to the unusually high hold of September. Rovell agreed that the proliferation of SGPs is going to impact the bottom line for the foreseeable future, driving up returns for the sportsbooks.
Rovell pointed to examples like Pat McAfee’s SGPs where the market can bet along with him and hope to get rich, but more than likely lose. These communal experiences, combined with the promotion of outrageous parlays with 20+ legs hitting major paydays are making the bet type even more popular. Parlays bring in both people looking to gamble and hope to hit it big and bettors looking for the communal experience that comes along with fading or following their favorite sports personalities. For the latter, the feeling of being part of a group is a huge motivation that should not be overlooked.
FanDuel, which was first to market with the SGP innovation, has already seen an uptick in hold in many individual markets compared to competitors. This past month though, there were few sportsbooks that were not raking in huge returns.
September 2022 was an outlier primarily because of the unusual results in the NFL, but those are not the only numbers that impacted hold. In fact, it is unclear just how much of the handle was on NFL futures bets, for example, which won’t pay off until February and March. But beyond just a string of unexpected losses from heavily favored teams, this month shines a bright light on how the industry is growing and changing. Yes, a 10% hold month in and out remains a big, if not impossible ask, but as the industry markets communal SGPs and the lucky winners of small parlays and big returns, it does seem like the bar will remain higher than the 5-6% Nevada sportsbooks generate.