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New technology, data will change sports betting

7th January, 19:38

The NHL teams that make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring are set to enter the rink with additions to their uniforms.

The league plans to put sensors in shoulder pads and inside pucks to track players' speed and how hard they hit a puck, among other metrics. The sensors have been tested on the Vegas Golden Knights in the past, and are set to be used across the league.

As the NHL and other leagues collect more data on their players, sportsbook operators have been stepping in to form partnerships that give them access to these metrics. The faster, more complex data from leagues could lead to better in-game betting options, drawing in more viewers and bets.

"This is a culture now that's so used to instant gratification and being entertained and mobile access," said Sara Slane, sports betting consultant for the NHL and a CES 2020 panelist at "The Future of Sports Betting" panel Tuesday. "We'll start to see a lot more engagement and product development around in-play prop betting. ... This is an amazing fan engagement tool for them to get fans back to watching games that take longer than two hours."

Growth on in-play

Gambling analyst Chris Grove of Eilers & Krejcik Gaming said bettors are drawn to in-game betting -- bets gamblers place on games that have already started -- because they tend to resolve quicker than pre-match wagers, and offer a greater variety of ways to bet.

Data directly from the leagues should transfer faster than data from third-parties, making it highly appealing for sportsbook operators, according to Grove.

Sportsbooks "prefer the fastest data possible," he said. "The sooner you have the data, the more markets you can offer, and the better you can price your markets."

That could make a big difference for bettors like Chris Connelly, founder of Contrarian Investments, one of the first sports betting mutual funds in the U.S.

"That would make the lines a lot sharper for the sportsbook," he said. "Right now, the limits are super tight on in-game wagering (in the U.S.) ... Hopefully, the data will help them be confident in their numbers."

Ezra Kucharz, chief business officer for DraftKings, said league data opens doors for the fantasy league company to add more in-game wagering offerings.

"It's really clean," he said. "It's fast and allows us to do better and more interesting things."

But Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US, said he's more bearish on data's role in the future of in-play betting.

He pointed to tech like the NHL's puck and player tracking, something he thinks will prove to be more useful for scouts than sportsbooks. While he does expect in-play betting to grow in the U.S., he believes those bets will focus on the game's end result as opposed to granular bets based on metrics like speed.

"I'm not sure how many people care if (Knights center William) Karlsson or (right wing Alex) Tuch is faster. I don't know how much of that will translate to betting. ... It becomes disruptive to the viewing experience," he said. "Ultimately the market will decide whether (this data) is useful."

Fan engagement

Sports betting has been expanding rapidly across the U.S. since 2018. That May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a law that had prohibited the spread of sports betting to markets outside Nevada. Today, 14 states have legal, operational sports betting industries, with more looking to join.

"When PASPA got overturned, we quickly realized, and the sports operators quickly told us ... we want your puck and player tracking data because we think that there's a tremendous opportunity to use that to engage fans," said NHL chief business officer Keith Wachtel. "(We saw a chance to) get existing fans to consume more and new fans to enter the sport."

To gain access to advanced data like this, sportsbook operators enter partnerships with leagues. These deals often give operators a title like "official gaming partner" or "official daily fantasy partner," along with access to official league marks, logos and betting data.

Leagues were hesitant at first to get involved in sports betting, for fear of putting the integrity of the game at risk. But illegal offshore betting became a major driver; the American Gaming Association estimating the market was seeing at least $150 billion in bets every year.

Scott Kaufman-Ross, head of fantasy and gaming for the NBA and panelist for the "Future of Sports Betting" discussion at CES on Wednesday, said some bettors don't realize they're using an offshore operator. These partnerships can help differentiate legitimate sportsbooks and draw bettors away from the black market.

"If our fans are going to use sports betting as a mechanism to engage with the NBA, we want to make sure that they're having an authentic experience," Kaufman-Ross said.

More value down the road

While some leagues and associations -- including the NFL -- have yet to make any data-sharing deals directly with sportsbooks, other leagues are looking for ways to expand their partnerships.

"We'll be continuing with more data, more opportunities," said Kenny Gersh, executive vice president for gaming and new business venture for the MLB. "Our goal is to have a relationship with everyone offering sports betting in the U.S."

Wachtel said he expects to see hockey change dramatically as the NHL continues to focus on data collection.

"The league's over 100 years old, we still have some of the same stats. It hasn't evolved in the way that some of the other sports have," he said. "We think we can leapfrog because we're going to have data that's never been seen before. ... We are excited about the opportunity, just organically, about what this data will allow throughout the whole hockey ecosystem."

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