As the sports betting market continues to grow nationwide with the opening of sportsbooks in about a dozen states and over 40 states moving toward the legalization of sport betting, baseball sits uniquely poised as a growth market.
“The pace of play for a Major League Baseball game is ideal for live wagering,” says Johnny Avello, DraftKings director of race and sportsbook operations. “The amount of time between pitches and action allows our book to rapidly offer a wide variety of markets for our customers to choose from.”
Avello says that live bets constitute about 70 percent of action sportsbooks in Europe, but only about 30 percent in the United States. “As the American sports fan becomes more familiar with live options, I feel you’ll see that number start to shift and baseball is positioned well for that.”
Jay Kornegay, SuperBookUSA executive vice president of operations, calls sports betting an “underserved market” and expects we’ll see “tremendous growth despite the crisis we are going through right now. Sports betting has a very high ceiling.”
As states move to support sports betting, Kornegay says the practice is shifting into the mainstream media and consciousness of the average sports fan, “certainly helping and educating people and making them feel more comfortable in betting sports.”
The entry into sports betting is twofold. Kornegay says he sees the recreational players opting for a parlay bet of $20 or $50, where they can bet on a group of games for a low-risk, high-reward scenario that allows them to spend an entire day or night rooting for a mix of games. For the more serious player, it is all straight bets, single wagers on a team or a total (over/under). Avello says he sees novice betters focus on pre-match wagers and the more experienced betters dig into exotic options, including the live wagering.
There is another type of wagering, though, that isn’t considered sports betting. DraftKings, founded in 2012, runs fantasy games, some daily and some game-by-game. The legal definition of fantasy sports is that they are a “contest of skill,” allowing participants to select a team of real-world athletes and accumulate points based on how their players perform in an actual game. Success depends on the combination of the athletes, not on correctly guessing the outcome of margin of victory.
With that designation, Avello says he sees traditional sports betting as a more casual experience than compiling a daily fantasy baseball lineup for the contest of skill. Still, to accommodate the fantasy demand, DraftKings offers a variety of daily contests and fully customized, private contests.
Kornegay says baseball wagering generally remains fairly level throughout the year, a sport often dominated by “educated play where you see a lot of those sharp players who do their homework and analyze games and algorithms and dominate the action on baseball.”
The recreational play, though, isn’t left out. “It is not like they don’t play,” Kornegay says. “I know they like to look at the scores every day. To them it is more of a watching game than a betting game until we get to those certain marquee games during the course of the year or the meaningful games at the end of the pennant chase or the playoffs. We do see spikes at the beginning of a season as people are excited and then it levels off except for marquee games on national broadcasts. It will pick up for the playoffs and World Series.”
SuperBookUSA is already looking to ramp up its baseball connections as it plans expansions into new states and has signed a deal with Jacobs Entertainment.
“As more states pass legislation allowing for mobile and online sports betting, interest is sure to increase,” Avello says, “not only on Major League Baseball where there are a wide variety of markets available but on every sport the DraftKings Sportsbook offers.”
From Las Vegas to the new sportsbooks opening around the country—including options coming in-venue and online—Kornegay sees sports betting as a way to increase interest in baseball. “There is so much value in sports betting as entertainment,” he says. “You can bet $10 and be entertained for three hours.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.