British invasion could prove to be a bonus for U.S. sports bettors

A look at current betting options in the U.K versus the U.S., with some insights as to what will help expand sports betting in America.

British sports books may have exactly what U.S. bettors have been looking for

For the longest time the U.S. sports betting market seemed like the forbidden treasure to U.K. sportsbooks. Studies in the early 2000s suggested that the potential gambling market in the United States exceeded $10 billion and that number is probably higher today. Most U.K. books, however, steered clear of the U.S. market knowing full well it could get them in trouble with the law both stateside and in their country, and more importantly, it would probably shut them out of the U.S. market forever if and when sports betting was ever legalized outside of Nevada.

Most U.K. gambling companies sensed a change was coming after the Republicans lost the 2008 election and this feeling was solidified after the U.S. Department of Justice issued its Wire Act opinion in 2011. While the opinion exclusively said the Wire Act only applied to sports betting, it was also clear that the old guard that was holding back any expansion of gambling in the U.S. was retiring or passing on.

The first U.K. sportsbook to move into the U.S. market was Betfair, (which merged with Paddy Power and is now known as Flutter Entertainment), with the purchase of the TVG network. The move seemed a bit odd at the time, but people then connected with Betfair said that they saw TVG as an opportunity to get a foothold in the U.S. market, which would be a must if gambling laws were ever liberalized. Betfair also believed their expertise in horse racing and unique betting options would make TVG a profitable venture in the meantime.

William Hill US sports betting The second U.K. company to move into the U.S. market was William Hill who purchased three sports betting operations in Nevada. They first purchased American Wagering Inc., which ran Leroy’s sportsbooks, for $18 million; then purchased Club Cal Neva satellites in northern Nevada for $21 million; and lastly purchased Brandywine Bookmaking, which ran Lucky’s sportsbooks, for just under $16 million. William Hill wanted to prove itself as a viable operation in Nevada, but their ultimate goal was to get a head start for all markets across the United States should the time come where PASPA was repealed and sports betting was legalized. The purchases gave William Hill over 55% of the sports betting market in Nevada. The 2011 DoJ opinion also convinced some U.K. books to partner with operators in New Jersey for online casino betting (as was mandatory to get a license in the state). 888 partnered with Caesars Entertainment, Ladbrokes-Coral partnered with MGM and Betfair partnered with the Golden Nugget. And very recently Bet365 partnered with the Hard Rock Café and Casino. While those partnerships were for casino betting only, it was understood they would run the sportsbooks if sports betting was allowed.

The moves seemed to be justified in 2018 when SCOTUS repealed PASPA. Unfortunately for the U.K. companies and particularly William Hill, legal sports betting didn’t erupt across the states as expected and by the end of 2018 only New Jersey and Delaware offered sports book operations in their racetracks and casinos. By all accounts sports betting figures in the two states have been good, but not spectacular and someone connected with William Hill told me that it was because they have been unable to offer sports betting the way they should. He told me off the record that if they weren’t required to follow strict rules, they would be far more profitable. But he also said that with the changing attitudes towards all gambling in the United States, it was only a matter of time before the rules were relaxed and then he expects gambling volume and revenues to skyrocket.

I was unable to find out exactly which rules he was referring to that is limiting William Hill, although there is no doubt that the amount of betting options in the U.K. is far greater than in any U.S. state, so clearly there are state rules that prohibit some options that would be allowed in the U.K. But if he is correct and the options for sportsbooks open up, U.S. bettors could be in for a treat based on the offerings that are currently available in the U.K. The following sections will elaborate.

More sports betting options

Generally in Nevada, sports betting has been limited to major sports such as football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, golf, tennis and motor racing. In the U.K., however, the sky is the limit. As one Bet365 rep once told me “if people are going to watch it, we’ll give them a vested interest.” In the U.K. sports like cycling, snooker, darts, cricket, volleyball, skiing, curling, and even swimming, get quite a bit of action. Obviously, many of these sports will not have much interest for American bettors, but there are clearly sports that Americans watch that they would love to have wagers on and U.K. owned books would be only too happy to offer. Examples may include bowling, Olympic trials, track and field events, MMA, E-Sports or any host of sports that are on TV and Americans only wished they could wager on. As well Novelty bets are very popular in the U.K., not just elections or awards shows, but also events like the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Scripps Spelling Bee, the Eurovision Song Contest and shows like Big Brother. If allowed, U.K. books almost certainly would offer odds on shows like The Voice, Dancing With the Stars, American Idol or American Big Brother. And it would also give a lot of people a reason to watch the shows if they are disinterested but their families have it on anyways. The only rule that almost every U.K. sportsbook has is that the bets must be in good taste. So, U.K. books are willing to take bets on whether Donald Trump will be impeached, but not on whether he will be assassinated. Similarly, you’ll never see a death pool type bet at a U.K. site or a bet on which city will be next to be hit by a hurricane.

More in-game betting

This is probably the one area where the rules limit current U.K. books. In-play betting is really nothing new and is offered at most U.S. sportsbooks, but it is limited and I’m sure there are rules as to what can be offered. For example, American books will take wagers on football games after a quarter is up or at halftime and more aggressive books will accept bets momentarily at a change in possession. However, once play resumes bets are closed. That is not the case with U.K. sportsbooks.

Live Betting in play wageringAlmost every U.K. sportsbook has odds available while a game or contest is being played and the only time the odds close very briefly is when something happens that necessitates a change in the odds. This not only applies to the four major sports, but pretty much any game that is televised. So, bettors can wager on a NASCAR race while it is being run, they can wager on a tennis match after every point is made, they can wager on golf consistently until the round is over etc. And the most popular in-play wagering event that has never been seen in the U.S. is wagering on horse racing, as the race is progressing. I once asked a sportsbook operator at a U.K. book how this was possible, and he said it amounts to four things.

First, they have traders who are very good at what they do and will not be beaten to the punch and if they do they are let go. Second, they have excellent technology that allows odds to be changed, markets to be halted or closed and participants in the market to be removed as needed. Third, the limits are not outrageous so if they do make a mistake it won’t kill them. And fourth, they have multiple traders for each market which gives a check and balance. Many U.K. books have said that in-play wagering now makes up most of their action and no doubt that will prove to be the case too for American bettors if they can bet on it.

More prop betting, including in-game props

Every year the media focuses on the array of prop bets available for the Super Bowl and those prop bets get noticed because rarely are prop bets available for other sports. In the U.K., however, props are generally available on every sport and the list is huge. For hockey, U.K. bettors can bet on first or last goal scorer, player to score a goal at any time, correct final score, first team to reach 3 goals, etc. In fact, for any NHL game William Hill offers over 100 proposition bets. But it doesn’t stop there. In-play props are also quite popular. At Bet365 bettors can wager on things like player to win the next point in a tennis match; what will Tiger Woods shoot on the 3rd hole at Augusta with odds like under par at 3/1, par 4/5, over par 5/2; which player will score the next touchdown – even as the teams are marching down the field; which player will hit the next home run, etc. World Sports Exchange made a name for itself by offering odds on the televised Sunday night baseball games on what the result would be on Brett Boone’s first at bat. It was revolutionary at the time, but in the U.K. it’s now the standard. Again, it’s not clear if there are rules prohibiting those type of bets in Vegas or other states but if not, it provides a huge opportunity for instant gratification for U.S. bettors.

Create your own odds

Create your own oddsThus far this wager is only available at William Hill, but there are expectations it could expand to other U.K. books and is no doubt something William Hill in Nevada would love to offer. William Hill has a Twitter page and bettors can ask for odds that are not readily available on the site. If it is reasonable and if it is for a sport they feel comfortable with, they will provide odds. Bettors Tweet their bet request to #YourOdds and the company responds with odds or an explanation why they will not offer odds for it.

For example, for the German GP there are 25 bets that were asked for at #YourOdds and that number will increase significantly by race day. So, a bet on Sebastien Vettel to win the race and Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo to both finish in the points would pay 25/1 odds.  No doubt this type of bet would prove very popular on NFL weekends or during the NCAA tournaments where the list of bet options thought up by oddsmakers would be enormous.

More Promotions

Sports betting is a competitive business, so the sportsbooks know that they have to offer incentives to attract business. Many will recall the early days of offshore betting where books were giving 200% signup bonuses with minimal rollover requirements or free $50 bets for setting up an account. Unfortunately, these offers were generally too good to be true and the majority of books making these offers folded. The $1,100 to win $1,000 bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers with no rollover by Mansion will live on in infamy as the worst promotion ever offered, as the book lost $2 million on the promotion and then folded its sports betting operation a few months later after the passage of the UIGEA.  In the U.K. signup bonuses are offered but are limited and instead the books focus on offers that are enticing but not back breaking to the books. For example, 888 offers a $5 rebate on all bets made over $50 during the week in a given week and they also have a wheel that provides some other small incentive based on what is spun – e.g. A 50% bet boost on any individual game. Bet365 tends to offer promotions where if you place a wager before a game then you can get an in-play wager for the same amount for free with the limit usually $10. But they also offer parlay bonuses, money back on 0-0 losses in soccer and early payout offers on all the major sports. In NFL football if a team goes up by 14 points, any money line wager on that team is automatically paid as a winner. And there are similar offers for hockey, baseball and basketball. Naturally this would have proven to be a great promotion given the number of blown leads in last year’s NFL season. And William Hill offers bonus boosts to increase the odds, free bet offers and a host of other promotions. This is definitely something American bettors can look forward to.

Exchange Wagering

If Flutter Entertainment has their way, then exchange wagering will be available for Americans, but it will only prove useful in large states or if cross state wagering ever is allowed. Unlike traditional sports betting where a book posts odd and a bettor wagers on it, in exchange wagering, a bettor offers odds and another bettor takes it. The book takes a commission on winning wagers. Betfair loves it because there is no risk on their end and bettors love it because they get true odds, less commission. Many offshore sportsbooks have accounts on the Betfair exchange to lay off some of their action and this is the easiest and cheapest way of doing it. The most popular exchange for Betfair is horse racing, but it is unlikely a true betting exchange on horse racing will ever take place in the U.S. since the tracks will view it as a threat to their pari-mutuel monopoly. Exchange wagering was set to take place in California, but it was nixed after the horse racing board and Stronach Group expressed reservations. An exchange is available in New Jersey, but it has not been successful since the volume on the exchange is so low. If, however, a true P2P exchange is allowed and created it would be a major boon for American bettors.

So, the British are coming and hoping to bring their successful offerings with them. It seems clear that William Hill has been limited in bets it is able to offer in Nevada and no doubt other states will create some limitations also. But with Caesars and MGM struggling to survive and sports betting generally seen as a necessary evil by many casinos, it’s comforting to know there are some real new sports betting options coming soon. American bettors deserve it.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley's RUMOR MILL!

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