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4 sports-betting execs and experts gave a presentation on how the gambling industry is adapting to losing nearly all live sports. Here are the 7 key takeaways.
9th April, 19:39This moment could also been a catalyst for esports betting, though there are still many hurdles in the way.
Sports-betting companies are reeling without major live sports for people to bet on.
Some operators are racing to cut costs and conserve capital until sports return, as Business Insider previously reported. Others are scrambling to find events for people to bet on, from the US presidential election to Russian table tennis.
IGaming Business, a trade publication focused on the online-gambling industry, hosted a webinar on Tuesday where sports-betting insiders opened up about how the industry is coping without live sports.
The virtual event, which was sponsored by FSB Technology, a UK-based supplier of software and services to sports-betting and other gambling operators, included a panel discussion with Dave McDowell, CEO of FSB; Keith McDonnell, CEO of gaming-services provider KMi Gaming; Representative Brandt Iden, from the US state of Michigan; and Seth Young, chief innovation officer at sports-betting operator PointsBet.
"The events around the world certainly put sports betting into perspective, but at that same time our industry has been so severely affected by this," said McDowell, whose clients are primarily based in Europe, which is a larger and more mature sports-betting market than the US. "I never imagined a time when we wouldn't have live sports available to us."
Here are seven of the key takeaways from the virtual event, including a snapshot of how much sports wagering has been rocked by the absence of live sports and details on how operators are trying to fill the void.
McDowell at FSB, which says it sees about $1 billion in wagering per year across 25 brands that use its technology, said he's seen a dramatic decline in wagering in the past few weeks, since major sports have been canceled or postponed.
Sports turnover, or the amount wagered before winnings are paid out, is down 75% across FSB's network, McDowell said. Sportsbooks that are most reliant on soccer are seeing declines as high as 95%, he said, while brands focused on more casual bettors are faring better, with declines around 30%.
McDowell said sportsbooks are also signing up fewer new customers. Customer acquisition is down by 50% across FSB's platform.
The downturn comes as sports-betting operators are trying to save money by pulling back on advertising.
"I think a lot of operators have decided to conserve cash," McDowell said. "It's a very difficult to attract sport-betting customers into a website when there is no sports."
The drastic decline in sports wagering volumes is partly because there are far fewer events available for people to bet on.
To put it in perspective, McDowell said an average day before sports events started being canceled typically had 400 live events for people to bet on across the sites it works with. That's dropped to 10s of sporting events per day.
The live events that are now getting the most action are Belarus and Nicaragua soccer matchups, Russian table tennis, and horse racing from the US, Hong Kong, and Australia.
"That's been really I think the savior of content for some of our partners," McDowell said.
McDowell at FSB said his company is racing to integrate content and data feeds from any sports that are still active into its platform, including table tennis and virtual sports, which are recent additions.
Betting operators like PointsBet are also working with US regulators in states where sports betting is legal to get approved to take bets on more kinds of sports.
"We've been working with the regulators in states that are live to get whatever we can approved within reason," Young at PointsBet said. "Table tennis has proved to be pretty popular for us."
Sports leagues and broadcasters are also getting creative to keep fans engaged, enlisting athletes to participate in virtual sports or esports events.
While some of these events, like the Virtual Grand National horse racing event and eNascar iRacing event have drawn robust audiences, the panelists cautioned that bookmakers need to be careful about taking bets on some of these events.
Bookmakers had to suspend betting on an NBA 2K20 video-game tournament that aired on ESPN and EPSN2 after the results of the event, which had appeared to be live, were leaked online, as Reuters reported on Monday.
In the US, regulated sports betting does not always include esports. Some states like New Jersey permit betting on esports events, while others that have legalized sports betting still do not. Even in states where betting on esports is legal, there may be restrictions, like players must be at least 18 years old.
Keith McDonnell at KMi Gaming, which works with gaming companies in Europe, Asia, and the US, said there's generally a big difference between sports bettors in the East and the West.
Gamblers in Asia often view betting as an activity in and of itself, and are more likely to wager on whatever sports are available, which is an opportunity for operators in those regions.
In the West, sports bettors largely think of gambling as a way to enhance the sports they're already watching. Those bettors are often more driven to gamble when their favorite teams or sports are involved.
McDonnell said it's not the time to try to push random wagers or casino games on those sports bettors during the live sports limbos. Sports-betting operators would be smarter to offer prop bets, or wagers on anything other than the outcome of a game, or free-to-play contests that keep those bettors engaged.
"Be creative in the marketing," McDonnell said. "These customers are grieving, they're grieving for their teams ... Give them an opportunity to make a decision about their team, about their players."
In the UK, where gambling on sports is more commonplace than in the US, regulators have been trying to crack down on problem gambling, and make sure that companies aren't preying on people who can't afford to place bets during the current economic crisis.
In the US, where regulators are still deciding where and how to legalize sports betting, some states are approving new types of bets. West Virginia, for example, is in the process of regulating bets on the US presidential election, as Bloomberg reported.
This moment could drive more US states that were considering legalizing betting to do so, particularly mobile and online betting, the panelists said.
But Iden, the US representative from Michigan, where sports betting is legal, said states should not rush into anything.
"Don't rush to do this simply from the aspect of trying to hurry up and gain that revenue," Iden said. "You could potentially risk getting it wrong and doing more harm in the long run."
Examples of getting it wrong could include over taxing and discouraging operators from setting up shop in the state, or incentivizing problem gambling.
There are many hurdles to betting on esports, especially in the US, where legal sports betting as a category is still taking hold. But the panelists said this crisis could be a catalyst for esports betting.
Sports companies and broadcasters are leaning more on esports in the absence of other live events. Gaming suppliers are trying to gather more data on esports and solve some of the issues around setting odds and maintaining the integrity of the events.
"Esports has got a real catalyst for taking it to the next level," McDonnell at KMi Gaming said. "Data-feed providers and all the support and supply industries involved with esports are having to looking at issues involved with integrity and the robustness and reliance on their data ... I think it'll come out stronger because of it."
McDowell at FSB said, for his part, many of his clients haven't been willing to spend the marketing dollars to reach the esports audience, but added the company is starting to look at pushing esports content for the first time.