Understanding the opportunities offered by sports betting legalisation in the US is a challenge for all operators to wrestle with. Deputy President at Sportradar US, Dr Laila Mintas, offers her insights into how educating US operators might light the way for this process
Now the hard work begins. The decision delivered in mid-May by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the case between New Jersey and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has set the scene on what may well be one of the most exciting periods in the history of the global gaming sector.
As much as we have had months, indeed years to prepare for the eventual decision, it is only now that we will find out to what degree the industry is prepared for what comes next. Experience from elsewhere, when countries have opened up specifically to online gambling, shows that each new market comes with its own challenges and nuances.
The various and widely divergent number of states in the US will be no different.
This is a new frontier for the gaming industry to get to grips with.
At least with New Jersey there is a wellspring of recent experience in how to establish and grow a new gaming market. Since the state opened up to online gambling in November 2013, both domestic and foreign operators and suppliers have learned the lessons of how any individual market develops.
Since market opening the online market has grown substantially year-on-year and this has encouraged operators both within and outside the state to believe that sports betting can also be a winner in the Garden State.
But all this came after something of a slow start for online (particularly poker) and the first lesson to be learned from New Jersey, and elsewhere, is that the industry will need to be patient.
The PASPA repeal news was understandably followed by a flood of statements and news from the industry and various
figures were being talked about for the potential size of the US sports betting market.
According to the various estimates, within the space of four or five years it could be a market worth $6bn, $7.5bn or up to $10bn depending on the view taken over which states might open up. But the variables here are multiple. Before we get to revenue potential, we have to more fully understand which states, under which regulations, with which fees and taxes and in what form.
A COMPLEX JIGSAW
All of these factors individually will have an immense impact on the success of any given market. Crucially, both operators and suppliers need to understand the complexity of the US gaming scene.
It should be remembered that the central argument in the Supreme Court opinion was to assert individual state rights. That points to one very important aspect of how sports betting will be adopted.
As with all other forms of gambling in the US, the spread of sports betting will be state-by-state. To make a highly pertinent point, it has to be noted that the Wire Act is still in place, in effect banning interstate gambling. In order to understand the US opportunity, all involved have to look at each state individually and seek how to optimise the
The online gambling industry is well aware of how the regulated European market has thrown up a patchwork quilt of regulations and market realities. This will also be the case in the US. Each gaming state across the country is different and importantly has an array of differing stakeholders that will all need to be involved in the process, from tribes
to casino interests and the politicians.
And most obviously, the major US sports bodies and leagues now have to be persuaded about the benefits of licensed and regulated sports betting. Sportradar has extensive experience of talking to sports bodies it is a significant element of our business and we like to feel it gives us a decent insight. We know their concerns aren’t just monetary ones.
It will be for others to decide such matters as integrity fees and other aspects of the relationships between the sports and the regulated regime in any given state. The American Gaming Association (AGA) will have a big role to play as well as others.
We are encouraged that the AGA was quick to release a statement in the wake of the decision, suggesting it was “ready to work with all stakeholders: states, tribes, sports leagues, and law enforcement to create a new regulatory environment that capitalises on this opportunity to engage fans and boost local economies.”
Experience tells us that issues and arguments are best resolved through discussion and cooperation and the AGA is taking the industry down the right route here. Sportradar has a long track record regard to both sports integrity and the interaction between sports and betting.
We have been speaking to all the stakeholders for a while now, getting to understand their attitudes and what they believe their own regulated markets should look like. We have also been able to explain to them what we think we can offer and how we can help further the cause of regulated markets.
The arguments in favour of regulating sports betting and bringing activities into the regulated space are, we believe, unarguable but we are also aware that the art of persuasion necessarily means they need to be stated again and again.
Regulated sports betting brings with it procedures and systems designed to spot anomalies. Integrity and the highest standards
of compliance can be built into the system. We can think of no better reassurance for US stakeholders than that we as a company
work with the global football authorities on alert systems that are designed to ensure that match-fixing is identified and rooted out.
Again, the argument needs to be foregrounded that no one other than bad actors benefit from sports betting that is pushed underground, least of all the regulated operators and suppliers.
Far from opening up sport to further dangers, the licensing and regulation of sports betting acts, we suggest, as a deterrent.
Quite simply, shady activity cannot survive in the spotlight.
We have a track record as a business of dealing with all the stakeholders involved in sports betting from across the spectrum including operators, sports bodies and enforcement authorities. The answer to fears regarding integrity are to explain and educate about how sports betting works elsewhere in the world.
What this decision does is for the first time truly globalise the world in sports-betting terms. There are multiple examples for how sports betting can work in regulated markets and equally various models. What success will look like in any given state will very much depend on what each of the stakeholders want. Yet the lessons from other markets are that there are models enough to accommodate the demands from each individual state.
Regardless of the model, we think the likelihood is that regulated sports betting works as a catalyst to growth for all stakeholders. Most clearly, and the examples from Europe are clear, regulated gaming brings in tax revenues. As is indicated by the scale that is being talked about in terms of market size, hopes are high that sports betting can generate much needed revenue for the states in question.
Again, it is up to others to discuss rates and other details but the examples for elsewhere suggest a sensible approach can optimise the opportunity and bring the greatest reward for all involved. Policymakers are entering new territory here and again, it is the suppliers and operators from across the globe who can help advise and guide here.
The example from Europe is informative. If the potential regulators and legislators are willing to hear arguments over integrity then we can hope that similarly they will be open to looking for examples from elsewhere about how markets can best be regulated in order for them to meet their policy objectives.
The passing of legislation is a complex process and one that we as a company are very familiar with from our experience in many
markets around the world. That experience will be invaluable in the years ahead as we seek to impart our knowledge to any stakeholder that is willing to listen.
In the opinion of the Supreme Court, Justice Alito makes mention in his summary of the historically controversial nature of the debate around sports betting in the US. He points out that arguments rage between supporters, who “argue that legalisation will produce revenue for the States and critically weaken illegal sports betting operations, and opponents who contend that “legalising sports gambling will hook the young on gambling, encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings, and corrupt professional and college sports.”
But as he points out, the legalisation of sports betting requires an “important policy choice”, one that each state must decide
This is where we believe the industry must step up. The case in favour of sports betting must be made in every single state
where the issue is being discussed.
Because of the success the industry has enjoyed in Europe in opening up various sports betting markets, it is possible that some think that the arguments in favour of legislation and regulation are self-evident.
This is not the case, particularly in the US. The individual states have been granted the opportunity by the Supreme Court to do what they want when it comes to sports betting, a move that is extremely welcome from the gaming industry’s point of view. Now the chance comes to shape the new landscape.