Exec Says Slow Pace Of MLB Play Makes It Perfect For In-Game Betting

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The Major League Baseball postseason has been a tough slog for some fans. Take for example Saturday night’s Red Sox-Astros American League Championship Series game, which produced only 41 balls in play in a span of 4 hours and 3 minutes.

Something has to be done, right?

Not so fast, says William Hill US CEO Joe Asher, whose oversight of the sportsbooks at Monmouth Park and Ocean Resort (formerly Revel) understandably gives him a different perspective.

“There has been talk about speeding up the game in baseball, but I always tell anyone associated with MLB, ‘Don’t speed it up too much, because it’s an absolutely fantastic betting prop,'” Asher told the audience at the final Global Gaming Expo (G2E) panel in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Asher added that “there is a lot of misunderstanding around in-play,” noting that while people do make bets mid-game on who’s going to win, bettors can do much more than that. “We’ll have guys bet $10,000 on whether there is going to be a run scored in the next inning. So you are taking a three-hour event, and chopping it down to 20 minutes.”

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Does that approach apply to a sport like basketball? “The same thing is, how many points are going to be scored in the next quarter of a basketball game?” Asher said. “It’s not as granular as [betting]balls and strikes. That will evolve over time, but there’s not a lot of time to make that bet — and it detracts from the viewing experience.”

Self-service betting coming to NJ

Asher said that while William Hill’s Nevada sportsbooks all have SSBTs — an acronym for self-service betting terminals, though Asher calls them “kiosks” — they will be rolled out on a large scale in New Jersey “in the next three or four weeks.”

“In Nevada, they account for less than 10 percent of the betting volume, as you tend to get small amounts bet,” he explained. “If people are betting a lot of money, they want to hand it to somebody at the counter.”

g2e-sports-betting-lessons-learned-panel
Last Thursday’s final G2E panel featured William Hill CEO Joe Asher’s thoughts on sports betting expansion

As for online betting, Asher had an observation a day ahead of Friday’s September sports betting revenue figures announcement that may help explain why the numbers were large, but not as large as some expectations.

“Folks like us got held up by Apple — in the app store they were delaying approval of new sports betting apps,” Asher said. “Those who had an existing gambling app were able to add a sports betting vertical and get going quickly. We were held up for the better part of a month, and MGM as of a couple of days ago I think still had not gotten through. We’re all hopeful that gets resolved soon.”

Richard Carter, the CEO of SBTech, said that some of his company’s partners are doing up to 70 percent of their business on SSBTs. The profit margins, meanwhile, are around 15 percent on the machines compared to 6 percent at cashier windows.

“[On the SSBTs] there’s no intimidation factor of having to walk up to someone,” Carter said. “People do more parlays there, as the terminals are so intuitive for adding more games.”

Sports betting’s hidden bonus for casinos

IGT Vice President Charles Cohen, speaking on the same “U.S. Sports Betting: Lessons Learned From Early Adaptors” panel, said that the addition of sports betting to gambling locations in four new states since June has provided some surprises.

“I have had conversations with operators this week who have said, ‘You know, it’s amazing, but our hold on table games has gone up since we started doing sports betting,'” said Cohen, whose company is a partner with Borgata casino in Atlantic City as well as with FanDuel at the Meadowlands Racetrack, among other properties. “The sports betting has attracted a bunch of people into the casino who aren’t regular table game players. They come into the sportsbook and make a bet, and when they are done, they find themselves at the table. Maybe they are in a good mood.”

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Cohen also said that as later entrants to the sports betting game, operators have an opportunity to “reimagine” how to create a sports betting experience. One example, he said, is to not rely on one static location to place a bet, but rather to integrate sports betting locations throughout a casino.

Kambi CEO Kristian Nylen said that while American football — college and pro — is king, the season is relatively short and with relatively few games. He opined that soccer and tennis will gain further foothold in the U.S. simply due to the much larger volume of betting opportunities compared to football.

Cohen made an interesting point about Las Vegas and March Madness college basketball, which have been a potent combination for many years.

“This will be the first time to get on an airplane and fly to the other side of the country to [legally]bet on March Madness,” Cohen said, adding that we will find out if those weekend trips “are truly a nationwide phenomenon.”

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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