Joe Kustelski: Future of sports betting intertwined with media companies

By Michael Bartlett

Media companies are great partners for sports betting operators, which is why they are pairing up left and right.

That was one observation of the burgeoning sports wagering industry from Joe Kustelski, co-founder of Chalkline Sports, during a recent exclusive interview with Gambling Insider.

Chalkline was founded in 2016 around a simple idea that customer acquisition is the biggest challenge for operators of regulated sportsbooks.

To help sportsbooks attract new players, Chalkline produces free-to-play and real-money games using live odds from seven providers, such as the Derby Challenge for Churchill Downs. Kustelski said it can personalise any game to any person’s local team or league, and offers both pre-match and live, in-play prediction games.

“There is a social component with playing free-to-play games with other people,” he noted.

Kustelski described media companies as “the perfect complement” for sports betting operators as sports wagering is being legalised in more states across the US. He noted the American Gaming Association recently estimated approximately 50m Americans will place their first legal sports bet at some point in the next five years.

Asked how such a titanic shift in outlook toward gambling in general and sports betting in particular has taken place so swiftly, Kustelski said a number of factors have changed, from attitudes in society to the sports leagues themselves.

“Many of the European soccer teams have sports betting partners,” he observed. “Now that regulation and legalization is happening, it is all about how you introduce potential new bettors.”

Looking forward, Kustelski foresees “no shortage” of deals.

“We will continue to see regional sports networks form partnerships until everyone has a partner. We have not reached the saturation point yet. We will continue to see more of these partnerships, and more live sports content paired with betting lines leading to free-to-play games and, eventually, betting.”

Are the big media companies a threat to existing gambling brands?

“It is not necessarily a threat, it is about how it is going to lay out,” Kustelski explained.

As the sports betting industry matures, Kustelski said media companies and teams will partner with operators, and these combinations will take different shapes. Media companies will bring audiences to the operators, and creative operators will figure out how to leverage those opportunities to gain more players.

One of the biggest changes can be seen – and heard – during game broadcasts. Fans of ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and his “Bad Beats” segment know well a quote from Al Michaels slyly saying, “Now that’s overwhelming” when a late score pushed the total above the over/under number. Today, announcers are allowed to discuss the point spread of a game without fear of retribution by the network.

“The openness is a welcome adjustment. Sports betting is no longer spoken about in code,” Kustelski observed. “People have an appreciation for how good the oddsmakers are in setting a line. It is part of a healthy ecosystem.”

People have been betting on sports “for a long time,” Kustelski continued, usually via illegal bookmakers. He noted sports betting is part of online gaming options.

“As long as people enjoy them responsibly, that is a good thing,” he asserted. “People who used to bet illegally are going to bet socially. There will be media companies and leagues that acknowledge responsible gaming programs as sports betting becomes legal across the US.”

What are the next steps? Kustelski said states that started off with retail sports betting only will move on to mobile, while states that launched with just sports betting will move on to online gaming.

“You will see interesting intersections between lotteries and sports betting,” he predicted. “We are only in the first quarter of sports betting in the US, and there will be a lot of evolution ahead.”


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