The US v UK sports betting experience

Scott Ferguson

When the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was overturned in May 2018, the American sports wagering experience was destined to change forever. The highly concentrated activity in Nevada could never be replicated throughout the other 49 states now that convenience was permitted to take over from the much-lauded Vegas experience. The spectacle of the Vegas sportsbook has always been the size and scale of the operation – banks of screens showing matches from coast to coast with rows of desks and/or auditorium seats for fans and bettors to immerse themselves in the day, particularly for college and NFL football. Betting lines rigidly follow the Don Best schedule on the screens, enabling bettors to rapidly navigate the plethora of matches.

 

While never as profitable or prominent as the vast arrays of slot machines throughout every Vegas casino, the sportsbook was still an attraction, drawing patrons from far and wide to place the almost-sacred legal sports wager. Slot machines of various values and table games could be found across most states of the US, often on tribal land and permitted under pieces of legislation such as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. But the legal and single-game sports bet was tightly restricted to the confines of Nevada. So, with the exception of professional and aspiring pro sports gamblers, travelling to Nevada was part of the experience.

 

Margins were tighter with many specialist sports gamblers of various levels of profitability, but with Las Vegas in particular being an entertainment destination of various vices, casinos saw the sportsbook as part of their portfolio. If they didn’t profit directly from the $100 wager on the Colts-Jets game, they’d make it up on the gaming floor, at the bar, in the restaurants or even via the shows. The full Las Vegas experience is a multifaceted revenue maker for the resort operator.

Duplicating the Vegas experience

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Replicating this model interstate simply can’t happen. A 20 minute drive to a racetrack casino to place a wager just doesn’t have all the razzle-dazzle and looser discipline of a what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas trip. Take that even further with the licensing of mobile betting – the convenience of betting anywhere, anytime, might be great for the consumer, but it completely changes the wagering experience. No longer is there anything special about that bet, sitting on the bus or the toilet placing the wager doesn’t stack up to the grandeur of Caesars Palace or the Westgate.

 

For operators, the most difficult task ahead of them is customer loyalty. Online or via mobile, there is minimal brand loyalty. With a couple of clicks, the bettor can place a wager with any licensee within that territory, forcing the operator to spend fortunes on bonuses, branding and loyalty campaigns, since historically the pricing of American sports is very similar. Some new US operators are leading with $1000 risk-free first bets, effectively creating its own sub-species of bonus hunters.

 

As seen in many industries, business has moved from the retail shopping centres to online. Sales aren’t disappearing, they are just moving from one form to another – the one with minimal brand loyalty, tighter margins and more intense competition. The growth and healthy profit margin in modern businesses outside the wagering sector is regularly being seen in the experience rather than the transaction – fine dining, spa days, personalised shopping, unique holidays and tours – specialist events that can’t easily be copied. So how does a wagering operator in 2019 create that experience?

Across the pond

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In the UK retail sector, that ship has sailed. Betting shops up and down the land are largely the same, a handful of TV screens, paper form guides on the wall, the maximum-allowed four gaming terminals (FOBTs) – and a few sports betting terminals (SSBTs) – with staff serving from behind a counter. Allowing for a variety in decor and clientele, the main difference is in the shop staff. An endearing shop manager with years of experience can make all the difference to local customers, while venues with low-paid staff and high employee turnover serve little more than a transactional function which could be mimicked anywhere.

 

In the nascent US sports betting industry, and in other jurisdictions likely to open in the coming years such as Argentina, Brazil and possibly India, the differentiator must be the wagering experience. In a competitive environment, the land-based venue has many advantages over online and mobile. Once inside the venue, that operator has a captive audience. The patron has made the effort to visit their facility, the operator has to back it up with service good enough for the customer not to utilise the services of another bookmaker. As Kevin Costner famously heard in Field of Dreams, build it and they will come.

The future of retail betting

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Focus on the event, focus on comfort, focus on convenience – make a big deal of the event, don’t overcrowd the venue, provide the customer with a range of food and beverage options, and let the customer bet! Cashier wagering is dated but it still provides a service for some.

 

The SSBT, or betting kiosk as more commonly known Stateside, has been the game-changer in US sportsbooks. Stepping up from the prehistoric machines which may still have been using Windows 95 pre-PASPA, newly-licensed venues are rolling out state-of-the-art terminals sited around the auditorium walls, and often under the big screens showing the live games. This satisfies the urge to bet during the seemingly endless TV breaks for US sports, but what about truly in-game while the play is still rolling?

 

Automated data feeds and odds generation have taken sports wagering to a whole new level. There’s no need to wait for the odds compiler to chalk up a new price – the revised odds will be available faster than a Golden State Warriors’ end-to-end drive for the easy lay-up. If the customer can get table service for food and drink, can the same be done with wagering? Is there a better solution than an app on the customer’s phone, probably one of dozens on the device, and bringing him or her within a click of engaging with a rival operator?

 

Tall, shiny kiosks are the starting point for the onsite wagering experience in North America, but in such a competitive market, that’s unlikely to be enough. Watch for the sharper venues to go the extra mile to find the value-added extension and establish themselves as the premium venue of choice. What will that extra mile look like? Betting devices integrated into luxury sportsbook furniture like an airline screen in the extra legroom row? Or perhaps rugged tablets distributed to seated patrons and locked in on the software of that venue?

 

The sportsbook of today will evolve swiftly and the computer application technology of Captec will enhance that customer experience. We will be exhibiting our wagering portfolio at G2E for the first time on stand 5919. Join us at North America’s biggest betting and gaming exhibition to discuss your vision for sports betting hardware and view our opening range of products.

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