Sportsbooks Not Crying Over Their Tiger Beat

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Congratulations if you bet on Tiger Woods to win The Masters. You won big, with odds as high as 100/1 at one particular sportsbook.

And in the case of one daily fantasy golf tournament, even if you didn’t have Tiger Woods in your lineup you broke even, as all bets were refunded as part of a special promotion tied to the modestly unlikely event of Tiger claiming another green jacket.

Are these sportsbooks crazy?

After all, at least three of them lost more than $1 million on a single event. At the same time, these books have landed an avalanche of free publicity. That’s worth something, right?

And sports fans reading about all these big scores on the Tiger win — including a single wager at a Las Vegas sportsbook that won more than $1 million — certainly aren’t going to be any less inclined to dip their toe in the gambling waters after this.

The method to the madness

A top executive at one of the books told NJ Online Gambling recently that in the case of states new to legal sports betting and offering a mobile option — hello, New Jersey! — the real value is in that signup to take advantage of the alluring odds.

The executive said that a typical casual sports bettor tends to have only two to three sports betting apps on their mobile phone, and that some never bother to add a second app if they are satisfied with the first one.

Well, 11 legal sports betting sites are listed on the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement website, with familiar brands such as DraftKings, FanDuel, MGM, Caesars, and others on the list. And with anywhere from 42 to 48 “skins” as the maximum allowed in New Jersey, more are on the way this year, and more could be climbing aboard next year.

So while many newly signed-up bettors may not be thinking of it this way, they just carved out a big slice of their sports betting app pie by starting an account in order to wager on the Masters. And while these bettors could theoretically add many more apps or uninstall some and switch to new ones, the market research shows that, once again, inertia is a powerful thing.

This is true both for sports betting (offered legally in only eight states so far) and for daily fantasy sports (legal in most states). Every time a book takes a hit, it has a happy customer. If the book’s app is user-friendly and the customer isn’t attuned to relentlessly seeking the best odds, that book may have an exclusive customer for years to come.

The “biggest loser” from The Masters appears to be FanDuel, which paid out more than $2 million from Tiger winning. That’s because not only did it take a hit of more than $1 million on “Tiger wins” sports bets — FanDuel Sportsbook was offering him at a generous best-in-New-Jersey 18/1 — there was another $1 million from its “Mega Eagle” DFS contest. One of FanDuel’s promotions was that if Tiger won, everyone would get a refund of their entry fee. No one lost money, except FanDuel.

FanDuel Chief Marketing Officer Mike Raffensperger said this weekend marked the company’s largest golf contest ever.

“Yes, Tiger cost us a million dollars, but we’re thrilled for our players,” said Raffensperger, who chuckled but did not respond when we asked what would have been the ideal result for FanDuel (you’d think it would have been Tiger finishing a close second).

The customer base for “fantasy golf” is up about 50% over a year ago, he said, adding that, “The ‘Tiger Effect’ is real.”

The most popular in-play props bet of the tournament, per FanDuel, were  “Next Hole Score for Tiger,” and “Birdie or Better” for him as well.

Big risk, big reward

The biggest winner? That would be the fellow who plunked down $85,000 on Woods to win at 14/1 at the William Hill Sportsbook at Las Vegas’ SLS Casino. Not only was it the first time this customer bet with William Hill, but he was to be flown back to Vegas and presented with his $1.19 million check late Monday afternoon. Again, the sportsbooks know how to make positive PR out of a loss.

“It’s a painful day for William Hill — our greatest loss ever — but a great day for golf,” William Hill Director of Trading Nick Bogdanovich said in a statement.

DraftKings Sportsbook, which also in the “million dollar loser” club, had its own twist on the Tiger Effect, gambling that even as he contended over the weekend it could offer enticing odds of 10/1 or even 15/1 and wind up sitting pretty … as long as he didn’t pull off the win.

BetStars‘ gambit to add market share and cross its fingers was a 100/1 odds offering on Woods — with a mere $10 bet limit. That helped produce a $360,000 mauling from Tiger.

What’s next for Tiger?

As it happens, the PGA Tour changed its schedule this year, with one of the revisions moving the PGA Championship, previously the last of the four majors, from August to mid-May. And where is the PGA taking place this year? At Bethpage State Park’s Black Course on Long Island. (That’s a public course that I used to play back in the 1990s because it had a “slope rating” degree of difficulty that was the highest in the tri-state area. There were no golf carts allowed on this course, which helped keep down the hacker population.)

The New York/New Jersey favorite for the past generation has been not Tiger, but Phil Mickelson, whose aggressive, sometimes overaggressive, style strikes a chord with battle-hardened residents of the region.

Favorites are often hard to come by with these crowds. When I covered the U.S. Open tennis tournament back in the day, methodical winners such as Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were respected, but not beloved. (Seles even was booed once during a U.S. Open championship acceptance speech, though that was for her including a good friend among those on her “thank you” list: a real estate developer named Donald Trump.)

But once Seles missed time after a crazed stalker ran onto the court in middle of a match in Germany, her gutsy return had her as the belle of the ball in Queens — if not quite up there with 39-year-old Jimmy Connors during his stirring run to the 1991 U.S. Open semifinals after only gaining entry as a wild card.

Even at 43, Woods (ranked 12th in the world before The Masters) isn’t as “over the hill” as was Connors, who was ranked 174th at the time.

But a full bounceback from countless surgeries and personal issues will make Tiger the crowd favorite at Bethpage. And while the CBS announcers have to call the Augusta National spectators “patrons” and an ejection from the course leads to a lifetime expulsion from the ticket list, this well-lubricated Bethpage crowd will get stirred up should Tiger make another run toward immortality. Make a note of Sunday, May 19. Mother’s Day is the Sunday before, but this may produce the mother or all golf roars.

Can’t wait ’til next year?

Sportsbooks already are taking “action” on next year’s Masters, with Tiger the favorite at 8/1 per Westgate in Las Vegas.

Is that a good bet? Well, as someone who did not see Tiger winning this tournament, don’t trust me, but maybe trust my logic here:

In this era, any pick in a major that is under 10/1 is difficult to justify given how many true contenders there are. How much lower could Tiger’s odds go? Meanwhile, Tiger is a veteran of many back surgeries and he’s 43. Will he even be healthy next spring?

He’ll give it another whirl at Augusta if he’s at all able, but that doesn’t mean he will be 100%. Let’s talk 2020 Masters picks next spring.

Photo by Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

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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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