Roundtable: State of the sports betting industry in 2019

This is the second installment of a roundtable series where we present questions to a world-class group of bookmakers, media talents and handicappers.

In the first, we discussed the 2019 college football season.

For this roundtable, we asked our panelists about the state of the sports betting industry 15 months after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to overturn PASPA.

Let’s meet our participants.

Jay Kornegay: Executive Vice President of Westgate SuperBook Operations since 2004.

David Payne Purdum: Gambling writer/reporter for ESPN Chalk.

Jonathan Von Tobel: “JVT” hosts VSiN’s “The Edge” with Matt Youmans (weekdays from 10 p.m. to midnight, SiriusXM channel 204).

Todd Dewey: Sports betting reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Lou Finocchiaro: Professional handicapper (sharp UFC bettor), founder of GambLou.com.

Here are their answers to our four questions:

What type of impact has the Supreme Court ruling and legalization of sports gambling in new states had on you personally, or on your job?

Jay Kornegay (@jaykornegay): I have learned a lot this past year. A lot about legislators and decision-makers. Many have proven to be quite knowledgeable about our industry, and others not as much.

As far as operations here, there hasn’t been too much of an impact. Our growth continues. Sports betting is more popular than ever. We’re still working on deals outside of Nevada if the right opportunity is presented. I think the SuperBook brand wants to find a good partner, which would be a state with favorable tax rates and one where we’d have the best opportunity to get remote sign-ups for mobile. But it still has to be the right deal for our brand.

David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum): I live in Georgia, which seems destined to be one of the very last states to allow sportsbooks. So, for my personal betting, not much has changed. Professionally, it’s been a whirlwind. For years, I could call a handful of books in Nevada and maybe message an offshore source or two and feel like I had a pretty good grasp of the betting market. Now, I have to call around on the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and pretty soon the Midwest to get a feel for the market.

I would add that the level of competition in the sports betting journalism space has increased significantly. When I first started covering the space in 2011, I was mostly competing against touts, most of whom didn’t have journalism backgrounds. Now, there are dedicated, seasoned reporters that are forcing me to up my game.

Jonathan Von Tobel (@meJVT ): Being a host at the Vegas Stats & Information Network has meant huge changes to my job since PASPA was struck down. With the the expansion of regulated sports gambling comes the hunger for information, not just in terms of bets, but also in terms of the plans for each state. As a host, I’ve really had to dive into proposed bills around the country and learn more about the inner workings of gambling from the state perspective. Taxing revenue, sports betting licenses, things like that.

Todd Dewey (@tdewey33): The Supreme Court ruling and spread of legal sports gambling has made my job busier and more high-profile than it was before. The Review-Journal reports on all the states that approve sports betting and all the new casinos and sportsbooks opening around the country that are based in Las Vegas, such as Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts, the Wynn, William Hill, etc. It’s also been interesting to compare and contrast the betting handles and holds between Nevada and New Jersey and other states.

What changes do you see for sports betting in the next 3 to 5 years? For example, the kiosks are becoming extremely popular for bettors, especially outside of Nevada. Will technological advances impact other jobs?

Kornegay: I’ve been surprised by the kiosks that were a tough sell here in Vegas. I’m pleasantly surprised with how popular they are elsewhere. The Asian and European markets are using kiosks and mobile for the majority of their business already. Kiosks seem to be the future, but with that said, I think Nevada will be the last market to move away from live tellers.

Purdum: Yes, I think jobs in the over-the-counter world are going to dissipate to a degree, via the kiosks and the general gravitation to online and mobile betting.

And if we really look down the road, I think we may find both the oddsmaking and bookmaking professions on the endangered list, perhaps replaced by artificial intelligence.

JVT: I don’t think we should leave Nevada out of this one. We could learn a lot from what is going on around the country as well. In states like New Jersey, bettors can register, deposit and bet from their mobile accounts. That is something that isn’t available in Nevada, but should be coming soon. Online betting is clearly the future, as shown by the handle numbers coming out of New Jersey. Kiosks will likely be the next advancement. Can’t you just see a bettor sitting at a book, watching the games with a screen/iPad at their table, ready to take their in-game action?

Dewey: I see the vast majority of states approving legal sports betting over the next three to five years as the industry explodes. Betting kiosks have yet to take off in Las Vegas but they’ve become very popular in other parts of the country, such as Pennsylvania. Legendary Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro recently returned to Nevada from working in Pittsburgh and was surprised at how popular the kiosks were among the younger crowd. He said in three years there will probably be two or three writers at books and the rest will be kiosks.

GambLou (@GambLou): I expect kiosks and in-game/at-game wagering to grow, like it has in Europe.

Who do you think is best positioned to thrive and benefit from legalization in more states? What do these developments mean for offshore shops, companies like DraftKings that can set up business in most states, local/illegal bookies and Nevada?

Kornegay: There are great companies out there in this space that will be successful. Those that will succeed will take advantage of the best product, content and promotional opportunities. Some will be able to survive with their cut of the market. It isn’t just about databases. Customer acquisition strategy is important.

Purdum: I think we’ll eventually see a significant consolidation both in the U.S. sportsbook industry and offshore. The marketing power of the U.S. books will be difficult to overcome for some offshore shops. Local bookmakers will always have a trump card, though, by allowing customers to bet on credit.

JVT: It is clearly the bettor who is best positioned to thrive and benefit from the continued expansion. Even in Nevada, bettors have seen an expansion of options available on the betting board. Having said that, this is nowhere near a perfect system. Just look at Washington D.C. and what locals will have to deal with there. As new operators enter the fray it is imperative that they offer fair products to bettors, or the entire point of this (eliminating illegal wagering) is missed, and those bookies will still be able to operate.

Dewey: Some of the Las Vegas-based companies like Caesars, MGM Resorts and William Hill that have already expanded to multiple states are poised to thrive, along with DraftKings and FanDuel sportsbooks that also offer DFS. The spread of legal sports betting will certainly hurt offshore books but there will always be a place for illegal bookies for the simple fact that they offer credit.

GambLou: Offshores will still exist, as will the corner bookmaker. That’s because not everybody is going to want to drink Budweiser, Miller and Coors.

How pervasive do you see shows like FS1’s “Lock It In,” ESPN’s “Daily Wager” and Showtime’s “Action” series becoming? Are there negatives and potential embarrassments to more media coverage of the industry such as individuals like “Vegas Dave” being a central figure in Showtime’s series?

Kornegay: Interesting question. I’m not aware of how prevalent those shows are in Europe and Asia. The U.S. market is immature right now. As it matures, those shows will become more popular. All the sports networks are similar. It’ll take time but as more people participate, those shows will be desired.

As for the negatives, there’s this thing called Twitter. Like anything that’s popular grows, there will always be people who have the opportunity to present a negative side and try to tear it down. People will believe the anomalies that are out there when they don’t know the industry. That will change as the market becomes more educated on sports betting.

Purdum: I think every major sports network will implement sports betting into their coverage in some form or fashion. But it’s only going to a be a small piece of the overall coverage plans for most places. If you have 10 NFL shows or whatever, only one of them may be dedicated to gambling.

It does worry me that when reporters — who are uninitiated with sports betting — examine the industry, they always seem to land on some of the louder, less-trustworthy characters. On the other hand, those kinds of characters will always be more interesting to a mainstream, broad audience than a sophisticated bettor who spends his days eyeing the screen and tweaking his computer model.

I would encourage people within the sports betting industry to be understanding when someone — a reporter or even new bettor — approaches them and asks what may be perceived as a dumb question. It’s a brand new game for a lot of people. Those who enjoy the industry should be willing to educate others, if they want the market to grow.

JVT: I believe shows like those and what we offer at VSiN will continue to grow. At the end of the day, a majority of the public wants one thing: winners. As hosts, we can offer as much information as possible, and there will be a select few that latch onto it to make their own decisions. Others will just tune in for the picks, and that will lead to the growth of mainstream programs like those. As far as coverage of those in the sports gambling community who are viewed negatively, yes there is a certain danger in that. It is a deep and important conversation to have that cannot be expressed in a paragraph. There are such a wide variety of opinions on many in the sports betting community. I believe that even at VSiN we are still working on our process, and it is nowhere near perfect. There is a glut of new bettors coming into the space, and it is imperative they get honest and accurate coverage.

Dewey: While we’ll probably see more shows like FS1’s Lock It In and ESPN’s Daily Wager as sports betting becomes even more mainstream, the wave of the sports wagering future will be “betcasts.” VSiN coined that term as it teamed up with the Las Vegas Lights USL soccer team for several “betcasts” of games in which the announcers discussed in-play odds that were displayed on the screen. The Washington Redskins announced a similar plan for their 2019 preseason games, with the regular broadcast on one channel and a betcast on another channel.

Many members of the mainstream media might need to be educated on the intricacies of sports betting. As for “Vegas Dave,” I hope that shows such as Showtime’s “Action” will help expose him and other touts rather than glorify them.

GambLou: I don’t pay attention to Hollywood or noise. I have respect for the people I am in contact with and certain others. The press is the overreaction-making device I like to rely on to sway the masses. Let ’em yap.

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