Oddsmaker Roxborough: Getting legalized sports betting right will take time

Oddsmaker Roxborough: Getting legalized sports betting right will take time

  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
June 19, 2018 12:00 AM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

It should come as no surprise, but legendary oddsmaker Michael “Roxy” Roxborough’s predictions about the legalization of sports betting are already proving true.

Not the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in May to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which limited legalized single-game sports betting to Nevada. Although Roxborough long ago made the court’s decision a considerable favorite, a lot of wags nailed that one.

It’s when the breathless predictions began ricocheting through in the press and gambling industry that legalization would be swift, painless, and a guaranteed winner that Roxborough cringed a little. Those who asserted PASPA’s repeal would send shockwaves throughout the betting world with state-sanctioned bookmaking parlors popping up like Starbucks across the land were caught up in the hype.

A syndicated columnist, author and teacher, Roxborough is best known throughout the bookmaking world as the founder and owner of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which generates betting odds for just about anything that moves. He calls for patience and caution about rapid legalization – not that everyone wants to hear him.

“We should be thinking in terms of months to years, but not because companies aren’t ready to go,” Roxborough said in a recent interview. “This is the age-old story. Even in Nevada, between the writing of the regulations and everyone putting their 2 cents in, and the gaming labs testing every phone app that comes out, we’re talking about months to years.”

And not all states rushing to legalize sports betting have more than a cursory experience with gambling regulation. Some have been in the business for decades, others just a few years. And the political atmosphere changes from state to state. From the crafting of regulatory oversight to the lobbying for control of the process, the obstacles are many.

Although some states, New Jersey, for instance, are far ahead of others, the real risk for the industry will be found in those jurisdictions that treat legalization like a gold rush. Sports books can be quite lucrative, but they can also lose – and moving too swiftly is an invitation to scandal that could lead to a backlash on the whole business.

Roxborough said those who imagine companies opening chains of stand-alone bookie-in-the-box operations aren’t seeing the big picture. Although some of that will likely happen, the future of legalized sports betting is more likely to be found in players’ smart phones and laptops.

Within five years, he predicts, the face of sports betting could look very different even in Las Vegas, where super books have become a familiar and popular part of the casino landscape. New technology, he says, is changing everything.

“The static Nevada model, where people bet before games, will be a thing of the past,” he said. “With a lot of new players in the game, I envision sports betting in the future as interactive with live-streaming of the game, and the tech companies will be creating this business.”

Many of those leading the discussion of legalization are “not even interested in what’s happening in Nevada today,” he said. “They see it as strictly interactive. The Nevada model moves very, very slowly. Even given all the enhancements, it’s more or less the same as when I got here in the ‘70s.”

Imagine being able to bet on every down in a football game. It sounds impossible, but with the right technology and a reliable, secure sole-source of data, he said it’s not far-fetched.

Another prediction that’s sure to raise eyebrows inside the gaming industry: Those who operate the sports books should find a way to partner with the leagues. Running a business off someone else’s business is bound to eventually create problems, he said.

That’s sure to tighten collars as the legal bookmakers circle their bottom lines, but the racket’s sharpest guys would be wise to take Roxy’s predictions to heart.

Contact John L. Smith at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.