G2E: U.S. sports betting still has plenty of room to grow

October 13, 2022 6:00 PM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports
October 13, 2022 6:00 PM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports

Even with sports betting legal in 36 states, operators are just “scratching the surface” of the U.S. market, two industry leaders agreed Wednesday.

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“It’s a big country. There are a lot of customers to come,” said Joe Asher, president of sports betting for IGT and previously CEO of William Hill US. He noted that three of the most populous states – California, Florida, and Texas – have not legalized sports betting yet.

Cathryn Lai, chief commercial officer for OpenBet and previously senior vice president of products and marketing for Scientific Games’ gaming-business unit, pointed to a variety of “untapped markets and demand” for sports betting, citing Americans’ fascination with prop bets, the convergence of media and betting, and the prospect of attracting more women as customers. “It’s going to continue to grow.”

The two spoke at a Global Gaming Expo panel, “Emerging Markets and Technologies in the U.S.” Sara Slane, founder of Slane Advisory and former American Gaming Association executive who managed its advocacy for legalizing sports betting throughout the United States, moderated.

Lai said the popularity of betting on five or more aspects of a game is unique to the U.S. market. “It’s like (bettors decide), ‘I’m going to bet everything that’s going to happen,’” she said. “There’s a lot of innovation on that. Operators can help drive innovation to really engage the player. It’s not going to be just an expense. It’s creating an entertainment experience.”

Lai told CDC Gaming Reports that the high interest in prop bets could help U.S. sportsbooks increase their profit margin, which historically has been 5 percent to 6 percent. Prop bets become “almost like a lottery game,” as people look for high payouts.

“If you’re a hardcore fan, you’re going to be on five or six different outcomes during the game that are all parlayed together,” she said. Many prop bets have a double-digit house advantage, with some reaching an 18 percent margin. Lai estimated that prop bets currently account for about 40 percent of U.S. sports bets overall.

Asher told the panel audience that the “lottery-ticket mentality” has increased fan engagement and made games more enjoyable. “As long as (sportsbook are) losing the money to the recreational bettor who’s going to come back and recycle that money, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

He said the “land-grab phase” of the U.S. market, in which sportsbooks sign up as many customers as possible, is winding down. He expects operators to shift their marketing approach and focus on areas where sports betting has been live for a while.

According to Asher, as much as 90 percent of sports bets are placed online in some jurisdictions, but retail sportsbooks remain important. “If you happen to have a bank account at Bank of America, it’s pretty rare that you actually go into the bank,” he said. “You just kind of feel better knowing that they’re around. Retail sportsbooks serve that purpose as well.” In tribal markets, a retail book might be the only way to place a bet.

Lai said cash betting will never go away, but electronic payments are valuable to operators. “So much innovation is happening on the electronic-payment side and how you can cross-channel all the accounts so that could really engage the player in multiple areas.”

Slane asked the two to share one piece of information that the audience might not know.

Asher said the roles of betting and media in sports “still have to evolve” and measures to restrict sports-betting advertisements in Europe might gain traction in America.

Lai took a different tack. “One thing I’m really bullish on is pickleball,” she said. “I think this will be an emerging market.”

NFL quarterback Tom Brady, along with former world number-one tennis player Kim Clijsters, this week announced that they’re part of an ownership group buying an expansion team for the 2023 Major League Pickleball season. Lai said that gives pickleball a celebrity aspect to go along with its nationwide popularity as a sport virtually anyone can play.

“That’s my thing I want you to walk away with,” she told the group. “A year from now, people will be talking a lot more about pickleball.”