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Wall Street Wades Into Sports Gambling as Legalization Spreads

22nd November, 11:24

The line between trading and gambling has always been fuzzy. So now that many U.S. states have legalized sports betting, following a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, it's natural to wonder if Wall Street will start looking for a piece of the action.

A few firms already are. At least one is actually making bets, much as a hedge fund trades stocks. Susquehanna International Group LLP, a quantitative trading firm headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., is building up a sports betting division in Ireland, where such wagers have long been legal. The business unit, called Nellie Analytics -- named after co-founder Jeff Yass's dog -- has about 20 employees.

Susquehanna is active on the Betfair and Matchbook online sports betting exchanges. Gamblers on those sites can wager against each other, instead of with a third-party bookmaker who sets the odds. Susquehanna offers to take the other side of people's bets. Rather than betting on a single outcome against the house, it aims to make wagers on exchanges when they seem attractively priced -- a common practice for professional sports bettors.

Sports betting won't appeal to most hedge funds. For one thing, the market is comparatively small and bets by large funds could easily distort it. A more straightforward way for finance to get into betting is by providing the back-end technology. Exchange operator Nasdaq Inc. has made a handful of sports betting deals around the globe. It's licensed technology to a U.K.-based soccer betting service called Football Index, a virtual market where users buy and sell stakes in players and earn dividends based on their performance. Nasdaq technology is also used in horse-race betting in Australia, Hong Kong, and Sweden. Nasdaq says it's a natural application of what it already does. "There's no need for a gaming company to reinvent the wheel to handle large volumes of transactions," says Scott Schechtman, head of new markets at Nasdaq.

Online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. is also in the "early stages" of exploring sports betting. "Although we won't comment on any specifics, we are always evaluating potentially innovative products and services," said Vijay Sankaran, the company's chief information officer, in an emailed statement. Business Insider first reported TD Ameritrade's interest in betting.

The research company Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimates that sports betting could become a $17 billion market in the U.S. if it's fully legalized in all 50 states. And it's likely to draw in people from beyond the traditional gaming business. "Sports betting is broadening the field of interest," says Chris Grove, a partner at Eilers & Krejcik. Financial firms are likely to test the waters, he says, though they may be put off by the lower transaction volumes and complex regulation. Compliance department, meet the state gaming commission. -- With Eben Novy-Williams

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