Alternative betting markets: short-term filler or long-term fixture?

Non traditional sports betting content ranging from table tennis to Nicaraguan or Belarusian soccer and Taiwanese baseball have been unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight for sports betting operators hoping to salvage some of the revenues lost to COVID-19.

Yet, are these ‘niche’ sports just short-term filler for sports betting operators, or should we expect to see them as part of our favoured sportsbooks over the long term?

Keith O’Loughlin, SVP Sportsbook, Digital at Scientific Games, Sporting Solutions CEO Simon Trim and Brandon Walker, Head of Business Development at Amelco (L-R above), told us more.

SBC: For the niche sports that have stepped up to fill the current gap; do you believe this to be a short term fix or the start of new long-term markets? 

KOL: As players spend more time experiencing new markets and verticals, they’re becoming much more familiar with how they work which is likely to lead to some retention, even when live sports make their eventual comeback. 

It’s well known that bettors prefer to stick with events that they’re accustomed to. This shortage of live sports betting has allowed them to explore other areas that they may not necessarily engage with.

Esports is a great example of this. Not many will have experienced this sort of entertainment previously, but we’ve certainly seen a rise of players wagering on these events. 

While of course regular sports betting will one day return as the dominant revenue driver, there’s a strong likelihood that punters will continue with esports betting well beyond this current climate. 

BW: For me, it depends on the vertical. In my view, the exponential growth in the popularity of esports is a delayed acceleration of what was inevitable. The amount of attention it has received, particularly in relation to FIFA, has proven to be huge. With sporting celebrities now getting in on the action, I believe this will serve to establish a new long-term proposition. 

For other niches, I wouldn’t hold as much confidence. Unless you’ve recently discovered the wonders of Ping Pong and Belarusian football, I believe that most players will return to what they know as soon as they have the opportunity. 

SBC: How should the industry educate players on these sports in a responsible way considering many are unknown to sports bettors?

ST: By sticking to sports which are already common-place on sportsbooks, we remove the requirement for additional educational tools. Whether a customer is betting on the Belarusian Premier League or the English Premier League, the available markets are consistent and familiar; likewise with Horse Racing markets whether it’s Aintree or Will Rogers Downs.

With any new or niche products, the responsibility to educate customers should always fall within the operator’s broader Responsible Gambling strategy. Especially with live sports substitutes such as Virtual Sports, which in terms of their structural characteristics (RNG based with high speed of play) are more akin to online casino products than sports betting.

KL: Most bettors will use their traditional routes of scouring the form books and stats available to make informed decisions on their betting slips. 

There’s definitely an opportunity for operators to provide useful tips and blogs on the latest developments of these niche sports. Major operators including Paddy Power and William Hill provide regular betting previews and have already included more articles on niche sports and events. Providing streams where bettors can view these events will help with the education process too. 

The Virtual Grand National, broadcast live on ITV to millions of viewers in the UK alone, will have done wonders in raising the awareness of how the technology works and the quality of the offering. Formula One’s Esports series is another example of how users across the globe have been able to experience what this new vertical has to offer. 

SBC: What should the approach be in response to lockdown or semi-lockdown measures; should the industry let this play out and just offer whatever becomes available as normal, or should it look to get ahead and start talking about safeguards for customers?

BW: Betting is all about entertainment, and our role is to provide as much accurate data and information as we can to ensure an informed bet. 

A drop in live events has not seen a reduction in people wanting to play – it’s merely seen a reduction in access to the products to which they previously had access. 

Of course, the market will look to offer as much as it can, as soon as possible – but it is also imperative to ensure that each product and market is as accurate and credible as it can be, which is where we come in. AI-based safeguards are also essential, especially given the current need to minimise the exposure of a generation less accustomed to frequent betting. 

ST: It’s been widely discussed amongst the industry that a population lockdown presents a number of challenges for Responsible Gambling programmes with calls for bookmakers to operate with heightened awareness and stricter controls. Sweden has already banned advertising on gambling, and increased government regulations are being introduced across many parts of Europe. 

In many territories, the industry was on the back-foot prior to the outbreak and operators will need to demonstrate (not merely pay lip service to) responsible practices to avoid short term legislative restrictions becoming implemented as long term policy. 

At Sporting Solutions, Responsible Gambling is central to our product development. Our modular Quantitative Trading Services include analytics tooling to automate the profiling of anonymised customer data to help identify those at risk, enabling operators to gain an understanding of their customer base not previously possible with inefficient manual processes.

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