Will Sports Betting Change What It Means to Be a Fan in Philly?
For the next generation of sports fans, gambling has become a primary entry point. Here’s what that could mean for a town defined by its fanaticism.
It’s the middle of the third inning, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol is about to make a stormy early-July Saturday afternoon a little gloomier for Kevin, a 27-year-old Allentown resident. Kevin is enjoying some food and a few beverages with his buddies at Barstool Sansom Street, a combination sports bar/club/branding opportunity that opened in March in Center City, and he’s put 25 bucks on a three-leg parlay through his DraftKings sports gambling app.
To hit it and win $75, Kevin needs:
- the Phillies to beat the Cards,
- Phils first baseman Rhys Hoskins to get a hit,
- and St. Louis pitcher Matthew Liberatore to strike out more than 3.5 hitters.
With the score 5-5 in the bottom of the third, Marmol is pulling his pitcher, who has whiffed only three batters, thereby spiking Kevin’s parlay.
“Oh well,” Kevin says with a shrug.
Though Hoskins did register a single, the Phils dropped a 7-6 decision. But the bet wasn’t a complete flop, because Kevin had secured a little insurance. Every homer hit during the game bought him back $5 of his original investment. Since the Cards slugged five dingers in their win, Kevin was only out the $2.50 “vig,” a 10 percent penalty paid on losing bets. No wonder he was so nonchalant about the loss.
Kevin says he bets on Phillies games a couple times a week and is “very calculated with it,” wagering 50 bucks at most. Even with his bet, he isn’t engrossed in the game. Neither is most of the crowd, which skews heavily toward the 20-something demographic. Four screens are on behind the main bar (a back bar and downstairs club aren’t open), two of which carry the Phils game. The others are tuned to golf and an MLB Network studio show.
Large groups of guys and women — “It’s about 50-50 here most nights,” a waitress says — mingle in the dimly lit bar, which features distressed brick walls (it’s taken over the space once inhabited by Brickwall Tavern), exposed black HVAC piping, and a concrete floor.
Barstool Sports has swelled from a “bro culture” bastion into a multi-pronged digital media powerhouse that includes podcasts, videos, blogs, merch, a sportsbook, and now branded sports bars in Chicago and Philly. Sansom Street isn’t a gambling parlor, but with backing from Penn National Gaming, Barstool is in the gambling business, continuing its expansion into anything that will connect it more closely to the 21-to-30 crowd.
And sports gambling is certainly a way to do that.
But the slope can be a slippery one. While merely .6 percent of American adults would be classified as problem gamblers, according to a 2008 study in the journal Psychological Medicine, that number skyrockets to between six and nine percent for college-aged people, according to a 2010 Journal of American College Health report. Successful gamblers win only about 53 to 54 percent of the time, according to Sean Brace, program director and host for The Gambler, Philly’s Fox Sports radio station. It’s a statistic that many gamblers — especially brash young bettors — don’t believe. So they bet. And bet. The opportunities are endless, and the potential for that next wager is always just a swipe and a click away. The sea change in sports fandom is fortified by technology, social media, data, and, most importantly, young people’s primary connection to the world: cell phones.
“The number one factor that fuels addiction is access,” says Jeremy Frank, whose psychology practice in Center City and Bala Cynwyd focuses on the subject. “Young people are able to place bets at their fingertips. They can carry the gambling with them.”
While gambling companies seek out new ways to engage eager young bettors, states profit, via ever-increasing tax revenues. Meanwhile, after fighting betting for decades, leagues and teams have tied themselves closely to it, to increase their profits. The Sixers have a sponsorship deal with Fox Bet. The Eagles have three sports betting partners. Phillies broadcasts feature in-game odds and various wagers through PointsBet. On Phillies pregame shows, hosts discuss whether prop bets could hit.
Now legal in Pennsylvania — and 30 other states — the onetime clandestine purview of illegal bookies has gone mainstream and is growing more popular with every month’s record revenues. Look no further than Stephen Starr, whose Bankroll restaurant will open this fall in the husk of the old Boyd Theater on Chestnut Street and promises, per a press release, a “luxury sports bar experience” geared toward gambling. The $20 million, 18,500-square-foot palace is funded in part by venture capitalist Paul Martino and will feature a ton of TVs, pub staples, and plenty of upscale options for those looking for a higher-end experience.
Meanwhile, gaming companies are developing more and faster ways to personalize their experiences in order to build a rock-solid connection between fans, gambling and sports.
For younger sports fans — no one under the age of 21 can bet legally — gambling is more than just a way to make or lose a few bucks on the game. It has become one of the primary entry points to sports fandom and is changing the fundamental nature of what it means to be a fan in Philly.
This may very well be the future of sports in Philadelphia.
BACK IN THE 1980s, at Roache & O’Brien, a venerable taproom on the Main Line, gamblers would wager with an unassuming character nicknamed “Yummy,” a kindly middle-aged guy with an easy smile and a calm demeanor. When customers placed bets with him, he thanked them.
“I always wondered why he did that,” one of Yummy’s former customers says. “After a while and some losses, I realized why.”
In those days, anybody who wanted to bet and couldn’t get to Vegas — where sports gambling was legalized in 1949 — needed someone like Yummy. People bet on point spreads or point totals or got down on the money line, which allowed a bettor to pick the winning team. There was no in-game betting.
Since fantasy sports didn’t start until 1980 and wouldn’t become mainstream until more than a decade later, fans had limited opportunities to engage in sports, besides rooting for their favorite teams. Betting was one way. Since bookmaking wasn’t exactly run by the Kiwanis Club, professional sports leagues and college conferences were terrified that nefarious characters would compromise the integrity of games, so they fought any efforts to legalize sports gambling beyond the Nevada desert. For decades, any athletes thought to be “consorting” with gamblers were investigated by leagues. Legendary New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath even had to give up his stake in a nightclub that was frequented by bookies.
In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court, cheered on by states looking for more tax revenue and leagues abandoning their pseudo-moral stances when they realized how much they could profit from relationships with gaming companies, ruled that states could allow sports gambling. Within a month, New Jersey residents and visitors were placing bets at casinos and other outlets. Pennsylvania followed later that year.
In 2021, Pennsylvania took in $122.5 million in tax revenue from sports gambling, according to Gambling Insider, a gaming-industry publication. The same year, New Jersey’s bottom line swelled by $100.2 million. In Pennsylvania, the overall sports handle — how much people bet — has risen from $194 million in September 2019 to $462 million in September 2020 to $578 million in September of last year, according to LegalSportsReport.com. It’s almost certain this September will feature another increase.
“Sports gambling is no longer taboo,” says Luke Beshar, VP of insights and analytics for Team Whistle, a New York-based sports and entertainment media company that targets the under-35 audience. “In the past, it was reserved for Vegas, and there was a social stigma about it. Now, it’s a way to engage and get skin in the game as people are watching the game.”
The process is easy and app-driven. Gaming companies provide constant offers of “risk-free” bets, which allow customers to bet up to a certain amount; if they lose, the money is returned to them as a credit (not cash) that they can use to bet later. They don’t need “a guy” or an offshore account. They open an app from a myriad of gaming companies (13 are active in Pennsylvania and 20 in New Jersey) and bet on just about anything you can imagine, including darts, snooker, Australian rules football and handball, before and during games. It’s reminiscent of the January 2021 technology-fueled stock-market run of GameStop, which was promoted on social media and joined online by scads of profit-seeking young investors. And the chance to play parlays, place prop bets (will James Harden make more than 2.5 three-pointers against the Heat?), and wager during games is extremely attractive to people 21 to 30 years old.
“It’s not about winning or losing a million dollars,” says Mark Beal, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information and author of Gen Z Graduates to Adulthood. “Even if they’re betting one, two or three dollars, they’re involved in watching the entire game. This is engagement in sports in 2022 and beyond. Sports betting is allowing that to happen.”
Even with gambling legal in Pennsylvania, bookies didn’t disappear. For instance, “the Accountant” has been taking bets for nearly 15 years in Philadelphia. A registered ER nurse by day, he inherited the book from a friend who owned a bar and reports that he has “about 100 customers” during football season and 25 in the months after that. His client base was cut in half when Pennsylvania legalized sports gambling, but “we got 50 percent of them back,” he reports.
In the past, bookies worked almost exclusively over the phone. Today, the Accountant uses a website originating out of Costa Rica that offers everything that can be found on legal companies’ apps and sites. “It’s the same exact up-to-date lines,” he says. The Accountant believes there are several reasons people still use him. One is that he doesn’t send customers a 1099 at the end of the year for tax purposes, like gaming companies do. Another is that he gives out gifts, like free bets, at Christmas. And he develops relationships with his bettors, so that if they can’t pay one week, he might grant them some extra time.
“The main bonus is credit,” he says. “You don’t have to have a debit card on file with me.”
But younger bettors don’t use bookies. They want to be on their phones, and sports gaming companies know that. Their business survival practically depends on engaging with people ages 21 to 30, gaining them as customers, and keeping them coming back.
“They are trying to achieve the ultimate marketing success,” Beal says. “They want” — like every other app in the app store — “to get the consumer to download their app.”
Back in February, Andrew Sneyd and his fellow FanDuel execs weren’t able to enjoy the Super Bowl all that much. Former All-Pro NFL punter and current sports-talk host Pat McAfee had dropped details of his four-leg Super Bowl parlay and then encouraged his nearly two million listeners to jump on — or “tail” — the bet on FanDuel. In January, the gaming company announced a four-year, $120 million deal to be the exclusive betting partner of McAfee’s show, and the parlay was a great bit of advertising for McAfee and FanDuel.
To earn $77.70 on a $10 bet, McAfee needed:
- Rams wideout Cooper Kupp to score a touchdown and have more than 60 receiving yards,
- Bengals QB Joe Burrow to rush for more than 11.5 yards, and
- Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to score a touchdown.
Since 220,000 others bet his parlay, FanDuel could have faced an atomic payout.
“That would have dropped my budget for the year by a lot,” says Sneyd, FanDuel’s executive VP of marketing.
It didn’t hit. Kupp had two TDs and 92 receiving yards. Beckham scored. But Burrow ran for just three yards on two carries. It was the classic parlay near miss. Fans “almost” won. Parlays promise big payouts, and younger bettors surf betting sites (many have more than one app on their phones) in search of the best deals and biggest potential bonanzas.
Bettors can pick their own parlays from a variety of options presented on individual games, like McAfee did, or mix and match them across a variety of contests on a given day. Betting outlets also offer specific parlays on which gamblers can wager.
“Sportsbooks make a 30 percent profit on parlays vs. five or six percent with straight bets,” says Jeff Edelstein, a senior analyst at USBets, a site devoted to sports gambling. “People love parlay bets. Who doesn’t like putting down a little to win a lot?”
The McAfee-FanDuel partnership brings the gaming company McAfee’s giant under-35 listener pool, and McAfee gets a pile of cash — but that’s not all. “The merger of these companies and the media is staggering,” says Andrew Brandt, executive director of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova Law School and a professor there. A 2021 survey by New York-based Team Whistle found that 84 percent of media brands that partner with betting companies see increased favorability among people 21 to 34. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed view sports betting as a form of entrepreneurship, similar to side hustles like driving for DoorDash, and 91 percent say being able to bet on sports leagues would make them fans of those leagues.
Darren Rovell, who has covered sports betting for 20 years and reports for the Action Network, a gaming news and data company, is amused by the about-face by sports leagues. “Five years ago, the leagues were opposed to gambling,” he says. “You see how quickly they did a 180-degree turn. They can see the situation down the road.”
Gambling allows for what Beal refers to as the “game-ification” of sports. By putting some money on a game, younger viewers become involved in it. “It’s not just passive TV viewing,” Sneyd says. “They can be active participants.”
And it provides a window to sports they don’t usually follow. The average baseball fan is 57 years old. Ball games are too long and move too slowly for younger viewers. So they engage in NRFI (No Runs First Inning) bets, putting down money on whether a run will be scored in the first.
Brandt has had conversations with casino operators who made it clear they’re trying to attract younger audiences. “The best way to do that is sports gambling,” he says.
Well, mobile sports gambling.
“They are very comfortable on their phones,” Beal says of young bettors. “They welcome new apps and are comfortable navigating on phones. It’s not work. It’s socializing. It’s interacting with sports. It’s what they do every day.”
Back in April, Tony “Big Tone” Thomas accidentally typed an extra “2” into the amount he was playing on a parlay bet on his DraftKings account.
“It was the best mistake I ever made,” he says.
Big Tone is a 23-year-old from Downingtown who has more than 41,000 Twitter followers and between 250 and 300 who pay him every month ($25) or $60 seasonally (mostly during the NFL and NBA seasons) for his betting advice.
On this particular night, he had been playing a bunch of $222.22 three-leg parlays on NBA players to hit at least a pair of three-pointers in their games. But when he was completing the bet that had the Sixers’ Georges Niang, the Bucks’ Brook Lopez and the Celtics’ Al Horford draining it at least twice each from deep, he accidentally typed in $2,222.22. He knew it was wrong but let it go anyway.
It hit. For $19,588.86. And Big Tone’s influence with bettors in his — and other — circles grew.
He’s not alone. Although many young bettors turn to sites like Audacy and the Action Network for gambling advice, they also follow people like Big Tone to see their bets and sometimes tail them. Some people, like McAfee, who has 2.5 million Twitter followers, influence on a nationwide scale, as his Super Bowl parlay escapade proved. Others have fewer followers but influence nonetheless. Then there are those who gain cachet within their friend groups for cashing their bets.
Trey Wingo, former ESPN anchor and now the chief trend officer for Caesars Sportsbook, has just under a million followers. MeganMakinMoney, who’s with Barstool, checks in at about 180K. And lesser influencers connect with a couple thousand folks.
Then there’s “Bill,” who became a big deal with his friend group during the 2021-’22 basketball season, when the 26-year-old Fishtown resident was “hitting so much, my friends were asking to let them get a piece of it.” People spend time following the big names — called “cappers” — but those who win bets within friend groups gain status and plenty of attention, too.
“Chris,” a 29-year-old business analyst who lives in South Philly, says that if he goes on a hot streak, he sends his picks to his buddies, who gladly play along — and boost his status within the group. “Gamblers believe in juju and vibe,” he says. “If one buddy is doing well, he gets compliments, and everybody is nicer to him.”
Text chains allow smaller groups to share bets. Social media helps spread the word to larger audiences. Twitter and Instagram are good outlets for information distribution, and some people start private Twitter accounts to keep their bets among a specific group. Meanwhile, private chat rooms on Discord are growing in popularity, especially with bettors under 30.
The gaming companies have joined in. DraftKings started a social page on which gamblers can share their parlays and picks, keeping bettors in the app for longer. Since people ages 21 to 30 are constantly on social media, it makes sense for gambling companies to reach them that way.
“Our social media team sees lots of long-leg parlay bets for five bucks that can win a lot of money,” FanDuel’s Sneyd says. “People say to their friends, ‘Who wants to play along with me?’”
It was all about to happen, and everybody there was in on it.
“Scott” and about 10 friends were crammed into a college-apartment living room in Pittsburgh, watching the 2015 NFC championship game between the Packers and Seattle. At halftime, they had all gone in on a prop bet — some through a bookie and others via offshore accounts, since sports gambling hadn’t been legalized yet — that the first points of the second half would be scored on a field goal, by either team. When a Seahawks drive stalled on the Green Bay 19, Seattle kicker Stephen Hauschka lined up to boot a 37-yard field goal.
It was time to cash.
Until it wasn’t. Instead of holding for Hauschka, Seattle punter Jon Ryan took the snap, sprang from his spot, and rolled to his left before floating a touchdown pass to 306-pound rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam. Seattle fans went bananas. Scott and his friends did not.
“We were all high-fiving, and then they faked it,” says Scott, a 29-year-old engineer who lives in West Chester. “We were screaming and cursing. We all still tell that story.”
The “bad beat” became part of Scott’s friends’ shared lore. And it stands as a shining example of sports betting’s allure — the camaraderie created by betting together can be almost as enjoyable as winning bets.
“Saturdays during college football season are big,” Scott says. “Even if we’re not together, we’re still texting our bets. During March Madness, we all get together.”
Betting as a group enhances the experience of watching games for young fans. It also gives them a reason to watch most or all of the game, which is unusual. (Sitting around and watching a three-hour sporting event doesn’t exactly line up with the small-bite entertainment of TikTok and Instagram.) BetPARX senior VP of i-gaming and sports Matthew Cullen calls the practice “snacking.” When young people do put money on a game, the demographic is far more likely to stick around. The Team Whistle survey found that 70 percent of people who bet on a game watch all of it, as opposed to 48 percent of those who haven’t.
“Bill” remembers a night last June when he and some friends were at the Ocean Drive bar in Sea Isle, watching a UFC card. One of the fighters, Mateusz Gamrot, was getting clobbered, but Bill and his pals still put $50 each on him to win at plus-225 (a relative long shot) mid-bout, despite “knowing absolutely nothing about anybody involved.” When Gamrot rallied and actually won the fight by decision, their bets paid off $162.50.
“It prompted the purchase of tequila shots for all the guys who had been in on the ride,” Bill says, delighted.
Gambling, of course, isn’t all long-shot payoffs and celebratory rail liquor. Before the legalization of sports betting, the helpline overseen by the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania would receive between 1,000 and 1,100 calls a year, according to executive director Josh Ercole. In 2021, the number climbed to 2,100 calls, and they’re on track to surpass that in 2022. Traffic is up on the text lines, too.
“I’m a big fan of looking at it from 30,000 feet,” says Ercole, whose nonprofit organization doesn’t lobby to end sports betting but instead uses legalized gambling as an opportunity to discuss potential problems. “Yes, there are issues, and there continue to be issues, and they may intensify. Sometimes, you have to look at the opportunities. For so long, people didn’t talk about it. It was taboo to talk about problems. As we talk about it, more resources and relationships are being built to help.”
And many young people who gamble need help. According to 2017 research from Imperial College London, gambling addiction activates the same brain areas as drugs and alcohol. That’s a big reason why, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association reclassified gambling as an addiction, rather than as a “behavioral control disorder.” The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) says people under 35 who wager on sports are five times more at risk for gambling problems than people over 65.
That’s why Harry Levant is working so hard to regulate the gaming industry at the federal level. A recovering gambling addict who’s now an addiction counselor at Mirmont Treatment Center in Media, Levant decries the “responsible gaming” model that he says only addresses individuals who’ve already gotten in trouble from betting, rather than looking at the broader harm gambling can cause those associated with people who become addicted.
“The issue is the scope of harm of the product,” says Levant, who was disbarred for stealing from his clients to support his addiction. “I hurt my family, my clients and my friends. Each person struggling hurts others.”
Levant says it’s ridiculous to have states, which benefit financially from sports gambling, regulating the industry. He says that while gaming companies may have messaging about betting responsibly, their goal is to make money. The only way to do that is to attract more gamblers who will bet more frequently. “If you’re going to have sports gambling, you can’t have the regulator also be a partner of the companies,” he says.
Levant even says that the NCPG, of which Ercole’s organization is a member, is culpable, because it’s funded in part by the NFL, which pledged $6.2 million to the group in 2021. Meanwhile, the NFL has partnerships with seven different gaming companies. The goal, plainly speaking, is to reap ever-growing profits from gambling.
Young gamblers continue to place bets and in some cases run up huge debts, often triggered by risky behaviors like chasing losses with bigger bets, according to the NCPG. Thanks to credit-card cash advances, the potential for danger is high.
“A lot of young people want to feel good at something,” says Jeremy Frank, the addiction psychologist. “They’re trying to build self-esteem. Young people may get really good at beer pong, become experts on different kinds of weed, or win at gambling to feel good. They’re hungry for it.”
Gaming companies allow bettors to install stopgaps within apps that prevent them from playing too long and send messages to those playing for extended periods of time, asking if the person “wants to take a break,” FanDuel’s Sneyd says. A big reason for that is fear of federal government regulation, like that in Europe. In 2020, the United Kingdom acted to prevent players from using credit cards to fund their gambling. In 2023, Finnish bettors will be prohibited from having any accounts with offshore gaming companies and will have to use the state-owned site, Veikkaus. And a Danish artificial intelligence company, Mindway AI, has developed an algorithm capable of analyzing gamblers’ tendencies and predicting which of them could develop problems. If that kind of tracking sounds concerning, consider that our every like and search are already tracked by algorithms by every kind of company, betting or not.
The problems for younger gamblers are growing. An astounding 75 percent of college students bet on sports last year, according to the NCPG. Only 22 percent of U.S. colleges have formal policies on gambling, although Villanova and St. Joe’s prohibit students from betting on their schools’ teams — an extremely difficult policy to enforce. According to Collegegambling.org, when compared to students who don’t gamble, young bettors are more likely to engage in drug use, binge drinking, and other risky behaviors.
And gaming companies are hoping sports betting will lead younger audiences to play online games like slots, blackjack, poker, and other traditional casino products, where the margins are much higher for the house.
“What’s great about it is, the game is always on,” FanDuel’s Sneyd says about casino gambling. “You don’t have to wait for the seven o’clock tipoff. You can play a couple hands of blackjack while you wait. If there’s a rain delay, go over to FanDuel and play some blackjack.”
The companies’ promotional methods are designed to create brand loyalty and repeat customers. The resources devoted to mitigation efforts don’t come close to the money spent on drawing gamers in.
“From a marketing perspective, this is a gateway to lure avid sports fans into becoming more regular gamblers,” says Rick Horrow, chairman of Horrow Sports Ventures and a visiting expert on sports business at Harvard Law School. “The idea of presenting free bets and bonuses may cut into revenues in the short term, but it adds to the possibility that people will become gamblers long-term.”
On August 3rd, the DraftKings stock price closed at $16.82, down significantly from its 52-week high of $64.58. People are gambling on sports, but the companies aren’t benefiting — at least, not on Wall Street. So what gives?
“At the end of the day, we see that the model is not sustainable,” says Jason Angelides. “Companies are paying a large bounty, up to $2,000, to acquire a customer and bring them to their apps. Then they provide no differentiation of product. The majority of gaming apps are very similar.”
Angelides and Chris Reynolds are the co-founders of Epoxy.ai, a tech company that’s developed a product they say will help gaming companies distinguish themselves from the competition. Starting this fall, Epoxy.ai will use its AI technology to help BetPARX make its app more personalized and easier to use — and therefore more profitable.
When Reynolds and Angelides owned OneTwoSee, a Philly-based company, they developed a platform purchased by Comcast last decade that helped individuals navigate TV sports programming based on their viewing histories. That’s the concept Epoxy.ai is using with BetPARX. When bettors open the app, instead of finding a dizzying array of betting possibilities, they’ll encounter options, data and even TV listings based on their preferences.
“We believe we are creating next-generation consumption around sports, because this is exactly what the young user base is interested in,” Angelides says. “They want hyperconnectivity, instant access, and hyper-personalization that’s easy to use.”
Since Epoxy.ai is merely providing a technology chassis that BetPARX will customize for its app, the company can work with as many gambling sites as it wants. It may be impossible to create a one-to-one personalization ratio, but the sites will try to come as close as possible. And gaming in the U.S. is in its relative infancy, meaning that while the future will bring many changes, like greater personalization, gamblers’ habits are likely to change, too. According to BetPARX’s Matthew Cullen, about 80 percent of the betting done in the U.S. takes place before games, while in “mature” European markets, 80 percent is in-game — or live — betting. Cullen thinks the U.S. market will flip, too, within five years.
And expect the relationships between gambling companies and professional sports to grow even closer in the coming years. At Wrigley Field in Chicago, DraftKings is building a sportsbook, and it won’t be long before fans at Citizens Bank Park and Wells Fargo Center have gambling kiosks that allow them to place bets. As technology improves, the speed of in-game betting will increase, allowing bettors to sit at a game and wager on the outcome of the next pitch, shot or play. Media outlets are expanding their gambling coverage and relationships. Every major network has an expert, and betting lines and data are presented before and during game broadcasts, if not on stand-alone betting shows. In July, the Inquirer announced a partnership with Better Collective, a sports media group that will provide gambling content, data and stats through its subsidiary, the Action Network.
Gambling’s reach will continue to spread. Starr’s Bankroll restaurant will no doubt be a hit. After opening a sportsbook at Chickie’s and Pete’s in Malvern, BetPARX is aiming to bring its Turf Club betting parlor to the Chickie’s spot in South Philly.
It adds up to a sporting experience infused at every level with gambling. Just as fantasy sports spread from the province of hard-core fans to just about everybody who follows sports, sports betting will balloon, too. Young fans who watch sports now because of the ability to gamble will continue to embrace betting’s holy trinity of technology, social media and camaraderie. Meanwhile, sports leagues will understand that to thrive, they must partner with companies that provide instant, easy and personalized betting experiences and attract young fans for the long term.
“Look at any of the products out there,” Epoxy.ai’s Reynolds says. “It’s hard to create retention if you don’t have a product that differentiates itself from the others. That’s why we’re bullish on our product. The key is personalization. Betting operators all believe this is the right direction and the future of the industry.”
The future will bring closer ties between sports leagues and betting companies, all of which seek to maximize profits from fan bases. Unlike ticket and merchandise sales, this avenue has almost exponential potential. As more opportunities arise, problems will, too, no matter how many resources the sports and gaming industries devote to promoting responsible gambling — even as they provide free offers and come-ons to keep bettors engaged. There might be increased regulation down the line, but states won’t be too willing to surrender the tax revenues, which are sure to keep increasing.
Meanwhile, young gamblers will connect more fully to sports gambling through technology and social media, until betting on games is almost their exclusive entry to sports. Most will do it responsibly and enjoy the enhanced experience. Some will develop problems that are accelerated by the ease of sports betting and other online casino games and develop the same disastrous problems that often accompany alcohol and drug addiction.
Is it wild? Yes. Is it worrisome? Possibly. But it’s also the future of sports, and there’s likely no going back.
Bet on it.
Some names in this story have been changed at the sources’ request.
Published as “In on the Action” in the October 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.