Year in Review: Sportsbooks revel in 2018 growth

With the opening of new markets and the opportunity of the World Cup, this year marked a significant chance for sportsbooks to elevate engagement and embark on expansion.

The World Cup, as shown by Google’s most searched terms, was arguably the buzzword for 2018. England surpassed everyone’s expectations by reaching the semi-finals, front-runners such as Portugal and Brazil were knocked out early and France savoured a historic victory.

A total of 166 goals were scored over the 64 games in the tournament, including 29 penalties in normal time, and 12 own goals. It was the first year that FIFA had decided to roll out the use of the video assistant referee (VAR), which subjected spectators to heartbreak and ecstasy in equal measures.

Online odds comparison site, Oddschecker benefited from a record high in monthly traffic, topping the previous record set in June 2016. The site saw just shy of four million unique users visiting the page over the tournament, with the most popular game page being the semi-final between Croatia and England.

During the tournament, bet365 held 23.9 per cent of the total world cup clickshare, followed by SkyBet and Betfair SBK at 10 and 9.8 per cent respectively. Viewing figures broke records throughout the tournament this year, as England’s semi-final against Croatia took over 80 per cent of the viewing share during the game.

Sportsbooks offered much tighter overrounds during the tournament compared to the 2017/18 Premier League season as a bid to dominate the market share, “with a tournament 1×2 OR of 103.7% (22 bps tighter than PL 17/18 avg).” It was also highlighted that the knockout stages “was priced marginally more keenly, 4bps, than the group stages.”

But despite the France v Denmark game being the only goalless draw in the World Cup, Oddschecker detailed that bookmakers still enjoyed a “relatively favourable tournament”. However, the firm suggested that the increase in the number of penalties throughout the tournament, up to 29 from 13 in 2014, “cost bookies dearly”.

The opening up of the markets in the United States was also a momentous occasion in 2018, as individual states were permitted to take steps to legalise sports betting if desired.

It followed the US Supreme Court ruling in May 2018 which ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was unconstitutional. The act was passed in 1992, and acted as a blanket ban on state-sponsored sports betting.

The act was found unconstitutional on the basis of states’ rights to implement its own legislation. Judge Alito, a native of New Jersey, wrote: “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”

“Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

Following the judgement, states were given autonomy in deciding whether or not to legalise sports betting. Delaware and New Jersey were among the first states to ratify the decision to legalise betting on sports, and several others have followed suit since.

In November alone, New Jersey sports betting industry generated upwards of $330 million in total wagers, and more than $21 million in revenues.

The Supreme Court decision saw shares in UK-based bookmakers subsequently jump. William Hill’s stock gained 9.4 per cent, GVC Holdings 6%, while Paddy Power Betfair’s share prices rose 10.5 per cent and 888 Holdings jumped 14 per cent.

US-Based Churchill Downs, which owns both casinos and horse racing tracks,  also reaped the benefits with a 5.73 per cent rise in its shares. However, not everyone profited from the ruling, as increased competition to the Nevada-based sportsbooks saw shares in Wynn Resorts fall by two per cent.

William Hill capitalised on the opportunity of rolling out mobile betting to its punters in New Jersey swiftly after the state ruled in favour of legalising sports betting. Along with Paddy Power’s FanDuel, the duo brought the state’s number of companies offering mobile betting to five. The move came just in time for the NFL season.

Many states have used casinos as a means of operating sportsbooks, but in December, Washington D.C. voted overwhelmingly in favour of legalising sports betting in the District of Columbia. It makes D.C. the first to give the green light to sports betting with no casino.

Greece-based Intralot, the city’s lottery operator, is set to have oversight for sports betting and was given permission by lawmakers to sell licences to sportsbooks across the district.

The full impact of the US ruling is still to be seen, and it is predicted that a number of operators will seek to obtain licences in the coming months. The change of the House to Democrats will likely facilitate more states voting in favour of legalising sports betting.

Other events in the year have included Brazil and Slovakia announcing reforms to sports betting policies, with both countries legalising sports betting. MGM Resorts also announced a betting partnership with Major League Baseball, making MGM the first-ever ‘Official Gaming Partner of MLB’ as well as ‘Official Entertainment Partner of MLB’.

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