While US sports betting has been a hot topic ever since PASPA was overturned in May 2018, there is still much to ponder for suppliers and operators thanks to new challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Brandon Walker, head of Amelco USA, sees plenty of potential for change when it comes to player habits, especially prop bets. The gaming executive spoke exclusively to Gaming America to tell us more, discussing the major trends he expects in 2021, player behaviour and not being out of the woods just yet when it comes to COVID-19.
What major trends does Amelco foresee in 2021 for US sports bettors?
We’re in for another whirlwind year for the US sports betting scene, as more states look to regulate online and get in on the action. New Jersey alone continues to break its own records almost on a monthly basis, with some serious growth that is generating a hefty portion of tax revenue, which I’m sure plenty of other states are starting to notice.
I also believe there will be a more open attitude toward online casino, which has proven itself as a hugely reliable pandemic-proof alternative to sports betting. Up to this point, Pennsylvania and New Jersey were the only two states to really capitalize on offering an online casino experience.
The likes of Colorado, Tennessee and Indiana are set to be left out in the cold if we see another repeat of fixture cancellations in 2021, and they’d do well to speed up the process. Prop bets are also going to continue with the momentum they’ve already been building with US audiences. This is in effect inevitable, as the market was always set up to be stat-heavy for the big four sports, because it’s what we knew US sports fans would demand.
Last but not least, it’s been a very interesting few months in terms of commercial deals between big US operator groups and major sports teams, and 2021 will certainly be a time when these agreements begin to manifest themselves and show their effectiveness. Big-name involvement has the potential to really change the game and I look forward to seeing what other deals can be made, and how they’re activated to appeal to US audiences.
How will player betting habits change compared to previous years?
We’re on an exponential trajectory here and as more US audiences become engaged with the world of online and discover what’s available, we’re going to continue seeing great change. As anyone who’s been to Las Vegas or Atlantic City will know, US sports betting is hugely geared toward stats. So much that punters arguably follow the player far more than the team. In baseball, for instance, we typically see more bets placed on a player’s average number of points, assists or RBIs than actual team results, which makes the US such a unique betting environment.
I also believe that as we see more spectrums of demographics getting familiar with online sportsbooks, we’ll see an even greater surge in stats-based prop betting. This is going to have a very broad customer base, from traditional daily fantasy sports players who want to transfer their knowledge to sportsbook, or even younger players who know their college football teams inside-out and want to test their skills in real money gaming.
When it comes to adoption and evolution of habits, a lot of this for me is based on educating the market on what’s out there. As legal sports betting continues to grow and the online experience will become more familiar, punters will be able to navigate through, find markets and better understand just how many options there are available. The knowledge is already there given the passion for sport, but they’ve only just begun to apply it to betting. In many ways we’re only just getting started, which again shows how much untapped potential the US really has.
How important do you think player props will be?
They’ll be a game changer. Take college football. In sheer numbers, it’s one of the biggest sports in the world, and in the majority of states, college teams are better supported and play in bigger stadiums than their professional counterparts. Students and fans know their teams very well and devote hours of their time to analysing the form, and they now have an opportunity to bet on that for the first time online. It’s a completely new world that we can’t compare to anywhere else. The potential in terms of customer base is huge.
We all know US fans may not care if the LA Lakers win or lose – it’s more about how well LeBron James plays and what he achieves. It’s the same with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Superstar players transcend their teams, and punters will look to wager on their performance and numbers rather than the team as a whole. This is especially the case for basketball, where one player can be so instrumental. In a soccer match over in the UK, it’s completely different. If you lose a key player, that doesn’t mean the wheels come off. That’s not the same over here.
This opens the door to a whole catalogue of alternative betting markets and the entertainment potential for that. And the way it will resonate with US fans is going to be immense. A match result may be decided by the first half in some cases, but by betting on player props, even garbage time points or runs, the most uninspiring games can turn into a rollercoaster experience for punters.
Can states progress with just sports betting or are alternative verticals needed?
It’s really a case of putting all your eggs in one basket. Yes, US sports betting has huge potential for growth in 2021 as well as a chance for providers to really get creative in what they offer, but we need to remember we’re not out of the woods with COVID yet. As any analyst will tell you, that means plenty of risk.
The logic of a ‘safe’ hedge dictates that alternative product ranges, such as online casino, are going to be essential. From first-hand experience we’ve seen that play out in 2020 and poker, esports and live dealer have been real lifesavers when sports were cancelled; we could very well see a repeat. As a platform provider across six US states, I can tell you having pandemic-proof alternatives are essential; and the broader demographics of customer you attract (as after all, online casino customers are very different to sports punters), the safer you’ll be with any major shifts related to COVID restrictions.
While technically sports betting, I also believe horse racing is a massively untapped vertical that has plenty of opportunity as an alternative betting option. It’s a lot easier to hold behind closed doors, which enables it to be a great option to have on hand to keep sports punters engaged. The US has some great domestic races in the calendar and while it’s been drowned out in the last few years by the big four, we’re seeing plenty of increased interest in this space. With the right operator marketing strategies, there’s certainly room to grow in the year ahead.