What does the new trend of social betting mean for the traditional sports-betting market? David Cook looks for answers
To even the most casual observers of gambling, particularly sports betting, it is almost unavoidable to notice the communal aspects that form the gambling environment have changed. For the UK in particular, the growth of in-play and an increase in gambling advertising spend in recent years have had an impact on the way sports bettors are engaging with events, be it through checking odds on Twitter during matches or sharing screenshots of bets on social media. So perhaps it has been obvious for a while that it was only a matter of time before social media and online betting were brought together into one product.
While online sports betting in Great Britain generated £1.36bn in gross gaming yield between November 2014 and September 2015, the market was always likely to evolve. Two social betting brands, Betfect and WantMybet, which both launched last year, appear to be the two sites gaining the more prominent exposure in the social betting arena, with a video ad for WantMyBet featuring former Premier League footballer Jimmy Bullard. The basic premise of these two social betting sites is that users can share betting tips with each other and place themselves on a leaderboard, which they climb every time one of their tips or bets are successful.
The faces of the sites, which are not actually the first in the space, as the likes of Tedbets has allowed for wagering between friends before now, appear similar to what you would find on Facebook and Twitter. Users can follow others and generate followers themselves, with their betting history on display and a live feed.
A reason for WantMyBet and Betfect standing out is that they could possibly be rewriting the affiliate model. WantMyBet’s list of partners includes Ladbrokes, William Hill and BoyleSports, and Betfect are partnered with Ladbrokes and Hills, with both searching for more partners. Rather than click through to operators’ sites via the affiliate, this allows the user to place a bet while placed on the affiliate’s site. A player can log in to their account through WantMyBet or Betfect, deposit, place a bet, share it as a tip with fellow users and cash out, without ever visiting the operator’s main site.
Both WantMyBet and Betfect elaborated on their beginnings to Gambling Insider. Olly Joshi, WantMyBet Co-founder, says: “We wanted to make betting more accessible through social behaviour. In the past, people may have been in a group of friends and they would talk about it, but they would maybe find it a bit intimidating to go on a bookmaker’s website. If they were on a Facebook page and saw a tip, they would click on it and go straight to the bookmaker’s landing page and be left to fend for themselves.”
Giacomo Alpago, Betfect Founder, who estimates there are 15-20 noteworthy social betting operators across Europe, up from three or four when Betfect started, says: “We started with this idea and then we realised that in the financial industry, someone took this social element and used it to solve how traders communicate online. We thought that if eToro managed to do it in the online trading industry, we had a chance to do it in the sports-betting industry. Social betting is something that until recently was people sitting around a table in a pub. We are trying to add a digital element on top of it.”
This has clearly provoked interest from the industry, but the approach from Ladbrokes appears to be a cautious one at this stage. David Williams, Media Relations Director, says: “In all truth there isn't an aggressive strategic policy at our end to target social betting sites. We are monitoring the environment but don't recognise them as key drivers of growth as we seek to deliver Ladbrokes' Plan A. The numbers generated through these sites are not yet significant enough to suggest that they represent the future of sports betting, but we remain interested and will sustain a watching brief in this space.” William Hill was not able to comment for this article, and BoyleSports also declined to comment.
After finding out about what is on offer, Gambling Insider wanted to get a taste of the action and signed up to both WantMyBet and Betfect. Through WantMyBet, we were able to stake a bet with Boylesports on Kazakhstan Premier League champions FC Astana to win at home to Celtic in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie, without ever visiting Boylesports’ site. We decided to tip and bet as opposed to selecting one or the other, allowing our tip to appear to anyone who may be coerced into thinking we actually know a thing or two about gambling. Sadly, Leigh Griffiths’ 79th minute equaliser for the Scottish champions, forcing a 1-1 draw, meant that Gambling Insider would have to do its homework before being comfortable sharing its in-depth knowledge with the sports-betting community.
Signing up and wagering through Betfect was a slightly different process, in that creating an account with Ladbrokes via the site led us to api.ladbrokes.com, redirecting us away from the site to a pop-up window. William Hill was listed as a partner, but its odds were not yet live on the site and it was not possible to wager with the operator. Thankfully, our bet with Ladbrokes on Surrey to beat Gloucestershire in cricket’s Royal London One-Day Cup helped us redeem ourselves, with Surrey’s 165-run victory allowing us to return a profit.
Joshi has been unimpressed with the industry’s efforts to innovate on this front. “To be honest, the industry is miles behind most normal industries,” he says. “Asking for something basic like wanting users to sign up, deposit, bet, and check their balances from our site is not possible with all bookmakers bar two or three. We’re trying to help them acquire new customers and they should be giving us these tools, which are actually quite a simple thing in the grand scheme of things. It’s just crazy how far behind their technology is, from an API point of view.”
When asked about product differentiation, there are a couple of contrasting aspects of the two sites, as Joshi explains: “A difference between Betfect and ourselves at the moment is that we’re only focusing on football and they are covering a range of sports. We wanted to focus on one segment and one type of user before branching out into other sports in the next year or so. The other difference is that you can tip on our site without putting any money on it. You can still climb the leaderboard and get involved in weekly competition. You can build up a track record without spending any money. With Betfect, every single bet you put up has to be bet on. You can’t just do it for fun, you have to pay to play.”
This opens up the idea that betting is not necessarily about the winning or losing against the house, be it for money or the thrill of winning. It can be about proving that your sports knowledge is greater than that of your peers, and that is simply reflected through tips where you do not even have to stake a wager. It could be the brainchild of online poker and fantasy sports, but uttering more on the side of bragging rights than financial gain.
So what can social betting grow to? Mark McGuinness, an online and eSports betting and marketing consultant, says: “This is difficult as no one really has a crystal ball or time machine to go into the future. However, if the operators have a customer-centric strategy and ethos, then these businesses shall prosper over others that are less visionary for serving the needs of today's digitally connected consumers.”
What next for social betting? Alpago is clear about the next step for Betfect. “We must go to mobile, as 60% of our customers are using the website from the mobile offering we have available, but there is not an application,” he says. Plans to move into markets in other countries are also in the pipeline, where Betfect would partner with licensed partners in each jurisdiction, while WantMyBet plans to create revenue from its own site and is looking into the possibility of financially rewarding the site’s best tipsters.
Gambling Insider for one waits with great anticipation to see if the social betting business model can be a successful one over time. For now though, it’s time for us to grow some peacock feathers and show the world of social media our belief that West Bromwich Albion will do a Leicester City next season and jump from 14th in the Premier League to champions in one year at 1000/1. Don’t say you didn’t read it here first.