In-stadium sports betting
It’s hard to fathom that only four years ago sports betting was illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada. The Supreme Court’s decision to repeal PASPA in 2017 opened the door to legal sports betting and sportsbooks have taken no time to take advantage.
As of January 31, 2022, 10 states offer sports betting in person at racetracks or casinos only, 19 states offer betting online and possibly in person as well and DC has offered a mobile betting app for sports betting. Three states have legalized sports betting and are expected to offer the product sometime this year, while seven states are seriously considering offering sports betting either in person and/or online. The only states that seem unlikely to ever offer sports betting are Hawaii, Utah, Alaska, South Carolina, and Idaho due state laws that generally condemn any form of gambling.
Sports betting is now so commonplace in most of the U.S. that it is impossible to turn on the TV or take a drive without seeing advertisements for some form or sports betting from companies like DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet and BetMGM. In many ways it is quite similar to what happened with the lotteries when they were first legalized in the U.S. and advertisements for Powerball and various other state lotteries appeared everywhere.
While the quick adoption of racetrack, casino and mobile sports betting was anticipated, it is unlikely that many envisioned in-stadium sports betting. While both in-stadium betting and retail betting shops have been quite popular in the UK, the appeal of these has dwindled recently, as most UK residents have started to gamble mostly online.
The first in-stadium sports betting platform in the United States was set up by William Hill at Capital One Arena in May 2021. The sportsbook setup looks almost identical to a Las Vegas sportsbook at say Westgate or Caesar’s Palace and some horse racing teletheaters where there are ticket takers, betting machines and a small lounge to watch the games. There is a betting area in the lobby where fans with tickets to a game can wager on the game and then go upstairs to their seats, while fans who don’t have tickets can bet on the game and either go home to watch the game or watch it at the sports bar in the stadium. BetMGM also just opened a sportsbook at Nationals Stadium and the first bet taken was a $5 wager on the San Francisco 49ers to beta the L.A. Rams. FanDuel just opened a sportsbook at the Footprint Center in Arizona in partnership with the Phoenix Suns and they have announced plans for in-stadium betting at the United Center in Chicago.
The sportsbooks naturally see this as a great opportunity to expand their brands and gain an advantage over the competition.
"As an industry leader in sports betting with a large and loyal existing customer base, FanDuel has a proven track record of innovation and excellence making them the perfect partner in developing the sportsbook at the United Center," said Howard Pizer, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, United Center Joint Venture in a statement on NBA.com. "It is designed to give sports fans a brand new, fully immersive sportsbook lounge experience unlike any other."
Amy Howe, the CEO of Fan Duel added: "Chicago sports fans are some of the most loyal and passionate in the world and plans for our sportsbook lounge inside the United Center reflect their excitement. Our team has a track record of delivering incredible retail locations for fans, and we can’t wait to make this sportsbook lounge the premier destination for Chicago sports fans and a place where they can fully experience the FanDuel brand.”
It is expected that up to 10 states will offer in-stadium betting sometime before 2023.
In the UK, BD Sports Group is the biggest provider of in-stadium betting services. It regularly partners with famous bookmaker brands to offer betting on matches where people can bet prior to the game, and more recently in-play, and bets can be placed by simply going to a kiosk at the stadium or logging into an app.
Along with betting, BD Stadia provides in-stadium experiences, including interacting with players and coaches to raise money for local charities. There are also promotions and giveaways sponsored by clubs and/or in-stadium bookmakers and arranged by BD Stadia, and it is expected that something similar will happen in the United States. It is inevitable that the cheesy giveaways of signed jerseys, balls and restaurant coupons at games will be sponsored by the sportsbook which has an agreement with the team. One advantage to fans is that the prizes may be better, although clearly the giveaways will not be open to persons under 21 years of age.
Not everyone is thrilled with the in-stadium sportsbooks, including many groups dedicated to stopping problem and underage gambling. The main concern with these groups is that they believe games and betting are independent and believe that having gambling shoved in the faces of fans entering the stadium is just asking for trouble. Josh, a 62-year-old gambler in Manchester, England, told me that in-stadium betting has actually retracted from his enjoyment of the game and led to his son taking up gambling to his detriment.
"I grew up in a fairly conservative household and gambling was very foreign to me. When I went to college in the early 80s my classmates were all betting on football and convinced me to join with them in a sort of betting syndicate. I resisted, but eventually I agreed, and I remember the first time I went to a Manchester United Game at Old Trafford and placed a bet at a William Hill betting shop on Talbot Road. We placed our bets, watched the game, and went back after the game to collect our winnings. I was hooked and from then on had to place a bet to enjoy the game. There were even times I bet against the Red Devils. It didn’t seem right, but I felt it had no control of the betting. Eventually I got a good job, moved away from Manchester to a London suburb, got married and had a son. I vowed that I would not let my son get to the place I had with gambling, and I never let my son see me bet, although I did. I even recall turning off the telly when betting ads came on so my son wouldn't see them.
It worked well for a while, but for a 16th birthday present I took my son to a game at Wembley, and I was somewhat surprised to see betting kiosks at the stadium. While I remember the betting shops, I never recalled seeing a betting shop in the stadium. The announcers kept pushing for people to get their wagers down and after a lot of encouraging from my son to place a bet for him on Arsenal, I gave in. Ironically the game was against MU. The bet won, I gave my son his winnings and things were never the same for him after that. By the time my son graduated from school he was addicted to sports betting.
His addiction was even worse than mine and he has lost his job, his wife and almost all his savings to gambling. Despite my comments, I understand the financial benefits to the country, so I don't think gambling should be made illegal, but there is no reason they need to push gambling in the faces of people who simply want to go and enjoy a good football match. Now I see young kids doing the same thing with their parents at games that I did, and I just shake my head."
Despite the obvious negatives, the financial benefit to teams is likely just too much to pass up.
DraftKings has set up a partnership with the Chicago Cubs worth $100 million to the club and plans to offer in-stadium betting at Wrigley Field before the 2023 season, and it is believed that sportsbook deals with some New York teams may be even larger. Aside from individual team deals, Caesars inked a 3-year deal with the NFL in 2019. It is almost inevitable that deal will be renegotiated for a much higher amount.
As for betting shops, there currently doesn't seem to be any indication that U.S. companies will follow the U.K. lead, although they might. Companies who can't get a betting outlet inside a stadium may try to set something up close to the stadium to give sports fans an option to bet and watch a game close to the action. Betting shops in the U.K. are generally seen as dark, dreary places where bettors congregate to gamble, usually on horse racing. They are often compared to off-track betting parlors, which have a poor reputation, particularly in New York State. They are popping up in storefronts on major streets in the UK on a regular basis and have led to a lot of consternation by politicians and non-gamblers who say they take away from the area and are encouraging poor people to gamble money they don’t have. They also usually feature slot machines (known as fixed odds betting terminals in the UK), which have been a point of controversy, leading the UK government to pass a law limiting the maximum bet on the terminals to 2 GBP per bet. It is uncertain whether most state governments in the U.S. will allow slot machines in the same place as sports betting shops, although keno is very common in New York off track betting parlors.
If U.S. states do allow betting shops, it is believed there will be a demand that they are upscale and more like the betting lounges that companies are setting up in stadiums, rather than a congregate setting for compulsive gamblers.
"New York realized the mistake of the old style OTB parlors and while they do exist, all the new ones are welcoming places with bright screens, theater type seating and even restaurants and bars," a former off-track teletheater operator in Niagara Falls, NY told me. "Most like ours also have an entry fee to make sure that the undesirable types stay away. Our teletheater failed and closed after 7 years, but I still believe it is the future. This is how any new betting parlors, whether for sports, horse racing or other forms of betting have to be going forward. Customers, governments and businesses demand it."
So, in-stadium betting, along with betting parlors, certainly has financial benefits, but also has their downfalls. Most bettors will likely stay away from them and just bet online where they can place a bet and watch comfortably from home or at their seats in the arena or stadium, if mobile betting is allowed in their state. But as is seen in Vegas there are people who simply want to be around others while they watch and wager on a game and there are some who simply aren’t comfortable with computers and want to bet old style. In these cases, in-stadium betting, as well as betting shops for sports, can be a good experience and a benefit for all. Sportsbooks just need to make sure that the betting area are comfortable lounges, and they are not pushing betting to problem gamblers and children.
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