It may not be legalized sports betting, but for those who fancy a wager on the ponies or soccer, virtual sports may be the next best thing.
The format, already popularized in European markets, made its long anticipated debut in the New Jersey online casino market on Wednesday, with upstart Play SugarHouse being the first to pull the trigger.
Virtual sports looks, feels, and mostly plays out like a traditional sporting event. But looks can be deceiving, and players are well advised to know the differences between the nascent format and real sports betting before placing their first real-money wager.
Virtual sports in a nutshell
The premise is relatively straightforward: players choose a virtual sport of their liking, view the odds like they would for any real game they’re interested in wagering on, and place a bet, with the payouts determined in accordance with the odds.
Then, players can watch the event play out in real-time, with payments distributed almost immediately after the event concludes.
So far this sounds an awful lot like sports betting, right?
However, there are a couple big differentiators between virtual and traditional sports betting. Namely, in virtual sports the games aren’t real, more closely resembling a simulation found on video games like Madden. That, and all outcomes are determined behind the scenes by a sophisticated random number generator. This determination is made before the event concludes.
And because RNG is king, it follows that there is absolutely no skill element associated with virtual sports. This is a crucial component of the game that players must understand, as it effectively means that there is no way to come out a long term winner playing the game.
Yet, like online slots, virtual sports is subject to a significant degree of volatility, meaning that players can make significant scores on any given day. It’s just that as the number of outcomes increases, so does the likelihood of landing in the red.
Virtual sports NJ details
Which NJ online casinos offer virtual sports?
On Friday, Play SugarHouse operator Rush Street Interactive announced that it has received approval from New Jersey regulators to let patrons bet online on the outcome of virtual computer-generated sporting events.
The virtual sports platform is provided by gaming tech company Inspired. Interestingly, both Golden Nugget Casino and Resorts Casino in New Jersey have also penned partnership deals with Inspired, suggesting that we may soon see rollouts on these sites as well.
Going further, Betfair uses Inspired for virtual sports internationally. A launch on its New Jersey based site feels imminent.
What games and bets are available?
So far, Play SugarHouse features the following virtual sports:
- Horse racing
- Dog racing
- Motorcycle racing
- Car racing
For all racing games, bettors can wager on runners to Win, Place, or Show. They can also place Exacta and Trifecta bets.
The wagering system for Soccer is a bit more diverse. Possible wagers are as follows:
- Match betting: Simple wager where players bet on the winner of the game, or to draw.
- Correct score: Wager on the exact final score of the match.
- Total goals: Sum of goals scored by both teams
- Over/Under 2.5 goals
- First team to score
- Last team to score
- Half-time result: Same format as match betting, just for the first half.
What times do games run?
From what it appears, each sport runs one game every four minutes, and starting times are staggered across sports in such a way that at least one match or race is always going.
Players can place wagers on any of the next five matches, giving them a maximum of ~20 minutes before an event starts to check out the odds. Payouts are typically distributed within 30 seconds of the event’s conclusion.
One might wonder how a soccer game can run every four minutes. The answer is that the game is cut in such a way as to resemble a highlight reel, comprised of only the game’s most compelling moments.
What is the expected return-to-player of virtual sports contests?
The RTP of virtual sports betting events in New Jersey is not entirely known, but we are working through the math and will update shortly.
What we do know is the following:
- The theoretical player payback must meet the minimum standard mandated by the DGE, which in the state of New Jersey is 83%.
- RTPs vary widely from wager type to wager type.
- Generally, the simpler the bet, the higher the RTP.
The third point warrants a bit more explanation. From what we’ve observed in both live and in European markets, match bets and bets on “To Win” generally return more to the player than exotics, and other more elaborate wagers.
For instance, we suspect that a match bet returns somewhere in the vicinity of 95%, similar to what the average NJ online casino slot returns. But a wager on correct score appears to return significantly less.
Likewise, while Trifectas pay out a lot more than Win wagers, Win bets will cause less damage to player bankrolls over time.
And remember, there is really nothing players can do to hedge the odds in their favor, unlike sports betting, where smart analysis can help players to edge trim.
What’s the future look like for virtual sports?
It’s easy to write off virtual sports as a sort of stop gap, designed to fill a void while New Jersey residents anxiously await the outcome of the pending SCOTUS case on sports betting.
And while that may be partially true, virtual sports betting has proven to stand on its own. According to Rush Street Interactive president Richard Schwartz in an interview with the Associated Press, virtual sports betting in Europe “can account for as much as 20 percent of a sports book’s revenue.”
Now, the climate is different in New Jersey as there are no legal online sports books yet, but that may actually serve to widen the appeal of the format.
Granted, it’s difficult to see virtual sports having a huge impact on NJ online casino revenue in the short term, as it’s relatively new terrain and will only be available on a few sites, but as awareness grows, the possibility of a notable uptick exists.
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