Sports·Analysis

Legalized sports gambling could change the way fans watch games

An explosion of in-game betting options is just one way in which the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to open the door for legalized sports gambling could change the experience of watching a game.

In-game betting could be the next big thing

The recent United States Supreme Court decision for legalized sports gambling could change the way wagers are made. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Picture this: It's the year 2022 and you're at the ballpark watching a sleepy mid-July game, dutifully cheering on the home team. But it's been a rough season and this game is no different — your team is losing by six runs as the seventh inning comes to a close.

This is usually the time when you turn to the seat next to you and nod at your dad, both of you silently acknowledging a comeback is improbable and it's time to head for the exits.

But wait, there's a reason to stay. Attached to the arm of your seat is a small screen that offers a full menu of betting options. What will the final score be? Will your team plate another run? Will the next pitch be a strike or a ball? You can gamble on all of it, and a lot more.

This is just one way in which the recent United States Supreme Court decision to open the door for legalized sports gambling could change the experience of watching a game.

Previously, Nevada was the only U.S. state where a person could legally wager on the results of a single game. Now it will be up to individual states to decide whether they want to allow sports gambling and in what form. More than 20 states are already actively considering it, with more likely to follow.

"I think every one of the leagues benefits," says Brian Musburger, a founder of the Vegas Stats & Information Network [VSiN], which supplies sports betting news and info via various media platforms. "It keeps an audience engaged, the more people that are gambling on the games."

More in-game betting

Musburger expects the next few years to be "messy" but eventually sees the North American gambling culture evolving to more closely resemble the one in Europe, where betting websites and casino companies are more intertwined with leagues, their names often appearing as sponsors on jerseys and stadium billboards.

He also predicts a move towards a more European style of betting, which means more in-game wagering.

"We are way behind Europe in terms of the way we bet on sports," Musburger says. "In Europe almost 70 per cent of the action happens after a game kicks off, where in North America it's between two and five per cent of the money being wagered happens after a game starts. So I think companies that move into this new space are really going to emphasize in-game wagering."

This type of betting fits better with certain sports.

"I think the pace of baseball is well suited to in-game wagering and I can see them getting a nice boost," Musburger says.

Daniel Wallach, a Florida-based gaming and sports attorney who closely tracked the U.S. gambling case as it made its way to the Supreme Court, also predicts the new landscape will result in more engaged fans and an increase in viewership.

"Every potential play or sequence across every major sport can become a betable situation while the game is in progress," he says.

Musburger predicts that many things in sports, including how certain games are broadcast, will become more geared toward wagering.

"The primary [TV] feed will have to remain pure. You have to be able to continue to reach children. You can't fill those telecasts with discussions of gambling. Not everyone wants to participate, not everyone is interested," Musburger says. "[So] you will have separate feeds dedicated to sports gambling. That's something we are actively pursuing with all of the leagues."

'A new frontier'

All of this has many owners of North American pro sports teams quite excited. While the leagues have been slow to embrace sports gambling, many owners have direct stakes in gaming companies or gambling-related products. NBA team owners Michael Jordan, Mark Cuban and Ted Leonsis have all invested millions of dollars in Sportradar, a sports data company whose clients include the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL along with sports bookmakers around the world.

"It could finally become fun to go to a baseball game again. You know, all that down time," Cuban, who owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, told CNBC.  "I think this is something that benefits everybody."

Leonsis, the owner of the NHL's Washington Capitals and the NBA's Washington Wizards, added: "This is a new frontier for professional sports and teams who don't seize on this opportunity will be left behind.

"As millennials and Gen Z continue to embrace the second screen, it's not hard to imagine in the near future fans on their devices analyzing data, placing bets and communicating with each other in real time during games. Legalized sports betting will only bring fans closer to the game, ramping up the action in each minute and creating more intensity."

The next few years in the United States will be messy, but the way Canadians gamble on sports may provide some guidance. Compared to the U.S., the sports gambling landscape in Canada is relatively evolved. While the odds offered may not be as favourable to bettors as they are in Las Vegas, and no single-game bets are permitted, sports betting is offered by provincial lottery agencies. Bets can be placed in person or through mobile apps.

"In order to truly impact the black or grey market I think you have to offer convenience and easy accessibility," says Wallach.

"That is effectively accomplished by allowing customers to register and make wagers from the comfort of their own homes. Requiring someone to visit a casino or racetrack, which could be 20 or 30 miles away, won't incentivize those that are used to the convenience of betting on their mobile phone."

Surely then, it's about to get a lot easier to place your bets — no matter where you are.

About the Author

Jamie Strashin

Reporter

Jamie Strashin is a native Torontonian whose latest stop is the CBC Sports department. Before, he spent 15 years covering everything from city hall to courts and breaking news as a reporter for CBC News. He has also worked in Brandon, Man., and Calgary. Follow him on Twitter @StrashinCBC

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