The pace of baseball and golf are conducive to live betting
This week MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred shocked the betting world after ESPN reporter Darren Rovell tweeted that Manfred claimed that the slow pace of play in baseball is ideal for betting because it allows sportsbooks to be creative with betting offers between plays. While it seemed like an odd comment coming from a commissioner of a major U.S. sport, the truth is that Manfred’s comment may be valid.
When World Sports Exchange (WSEX) was in its heyday, I spoke with its late sportsbook manager Steve Schillinger about the unique bets they offered, and he told me that the one bet he was probably most proud of was the bet by at-bat in nationally televised MLB games. Effectively the bettor could wager on whether an at bat would yield a single, a double, a triple, a home run, a walk, a strikeout, a ground out or a fly out. A sacrifice or an intentional walk voided the bet. Schillinger claimed it was extremely popular and bettors loved the idea of being able to win instantaneously. He said that most wagers were placed on some sort of out although there were always the shot takers who would bet on a triple at 100/1 odds.
He said one of his most fond recollections was of a bettor wagered $500 on a triple at 100/1 odds by Brett Boone who was leading off the game. There were discussions among the staff of whether they wanted a 50k liability on a novelty bet but accepted the wager because the bettor was a good customer. Boone hit the ball to the in the alley, rounded second and seemed destined for the triple but part way to third he went back to the second base bag. The relay throw was offline, and Boone would have likely had the triple had he went for it. “We learned from that and never took another bet like it afterwards, but you should have heard the screaming in our offices” Schillinger told me. WSEX also took wagers for whether the ball would be wet or dry for various players on the 17th hole at the Players Championship and they had other creative props on slow paced sports.
Schillinger said he would have loved to offer similar bets on football and basketball, but the pace of the game made it virtually impossible to do so since as soon as bets were posted they would have had to come down almost immediately. Schillinger said he got the idea for the baseball bets from days when he would place friendly wagers with colleagues on whether a batter would get an out in the next at bat and just figured it would be popular with WSEX customers.
Other sportsbooks have tried to offer similar bets to those from WSEX, the most notable being Bet365, and a former worker at that company told me that the "instant" bets are always the most sought after and was one of the betting options that has made the company the most profitable in the world. Those instant bets include who will win the next point in tennis, whether there will be a run in the current inning in baseball, whether a golfer will get a birdie, par or bogie on the next hole in golf, whether a player would get a corner on the next shot, etc. He said the company has tried some instant wagers on football, auto racing and the like, but it’s difficult to keep up with the pace of the game and provide any time for bettors to wager, so generally the company relies on bets like which team will score the next touchdown, whether the next drive will result in a TD, field goal attempt, turnover or punt, but next play results in football just aren’t feasible. And for very quick sports like hockey and basketball all they can really offer is team to score next and they have to be vigilant to close bets when anything happens.
That said, it still begs the question of whether slow paced sports are most conducive to betting and according to Stuart, a British bookmaker that has worked around the world, that indeed is true. Stuart suggested to me almost two decades ago that instant payout bets were going to be the wave of the future for any company that wanted to attract younger bettors, because they just don’t have the patience of the older generations.
"For as long as I recall punters wagered on horse racing and football (soccer) almost exclusively, and took flyers on sports like cricket, golf and rugby. Older punters considered the waiting time between races as part of the experience and they often watched horses warm up and studied the racing post for coming races looking for something they may have missed. But that was then. Most punters under 50 want results now. Horse racing was almost dead as a result in the 1990s, but has seen in a resurgence. It has nothing to do with the sport, however, but rather the fact that punters can wager on races anywhere. There is always a race going on somewhere so punters can get their instant fix and if they don’t like a race it’s only a couple of minutes to the next one. And with everything online they can now bet while a race is being run and they can bet on matchups. And with football, it’s not the traditional bets like match winner, first goal scorer or correct result that gets the most bets, it’s the ones that pay out fast like which team will get the next corner? Which team will get the next foul? Whether Ronaldo will take a shot in the next run, etc. Our book implemented these types of bets first when we went online almost two decades ago and it was revolutionary, but now every place does it. The internet allows for those types of wagers that could never be done at a betting shop. And I can fully understand where Commissioner Manfred is coming from with regards to baseball. What will happen in the next at bat, which team will get the next hit, will Sammy Sosa get a home run? Those are clearly bets that would appeal to young blokes and maybe the ability to place bets like that will help with attendance and viewership too.
But the one sport that must really be licking its chops in my opinion with the States now offering sports betting is golf. My colleagues and I watched 'The Match' on Friday and were wowed by the side wagers between Woods and Mickelson e.g. $200,000 for the golfer to get closest to the hole. $200,000 if either golfer can get an eagle on the easy par 5 etc. These are bets bookies could offer that would resonate with everyone and that can be profitable. And it’s because of the incredible slow pace of the sport that books can figure out a myriad of good side bets and leave them up for long enough to generate action. It’s a good time to be a bookie and I can see MGM and its partners making a fortune off these novelty bets in the United States."
So, Rob Manfred’s comments have indeed raised eyebrows. After all, this is the league that has banned Pete Rose for life for betting on baseball. But the context of Manfred’s comments are indeed quite valid. Football will always be the biggest and most desired sports for betting in the United States and it seems bettors in the U.S. will always be content to wager on game outcomes, totals and half betting, but the slower paced sports like baseball, golf and soccer clearly provide more opportunities for side wagers which could prove quite popular and profitable for all concerned.