Digital Double Down: How Smartphone Apps Have Transformed Sports Gambling
When I was a teenager, I worked at a video store (remember those?). Every Tuesday, we would get a shipment of the new releases that would adorn the shelves that weekend. I tended to look over these titles to see if there was a movie that interested me so that I could make a mental note to rent it. One day, I came across a movie that had two actors that I recognized: Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino. I was intrigued. The movie was called “Two For The Money”. I rented it and was fascinated by the premise of this film.
If you have never seen it, the movie is about a former college football star (McConaughey) who enters the world of sports betting after a career-ending injury. Then he aligns himself with the head of a sports gambling business (Pacino) who shows him the ins and outs of the industry through the lens of this business. The movie is one of my favorites as it touts excellent actors with a topic that I have always found fascinating. Fast forward to today, and I think about that movie quite a bit. Sports gambling has been on the rise of late, with 22 states having legalized the business. This has brought legitimacy to the sports betting world, and a big driver of this legitimacy has been mobile betting smartphone apps. These apps are using available technology and capitalizing on it to make betting on sports mainstream, and causing a ripple effect in the process.
Removing the Taboo
Years ago, I was a frequent bettor on sports. I mostly bet on American football but also wagered money on basketball and soccer as well. The way that I was involved in this was through a co-worker who explained to me the way that odds and point spreads work. He quickly became my bookie and he would have a running tally of the wagers I placed and the balances owed. All it takes to fully understand the thrill of betting on games is to watch a game where more than rooting interest is on the line in both a loss and a win. When you lose it is a gut punch, the lowest moment imaginable because you put your money behind what you thought would happen and you were wrong. But when you win, it is a joy unlike anything else, an ecstasy that few other experiences can provide.
But outside of Las Vegas, there was a dark alley back dealing feeling about sports betting. An “I know a guy who knows a guy” sort of culture since it was not legal. This meant that a lot of cash transactions were done on the hush. For the online betting world, equally suspect methods were done by people looking to risk some money on sports. Websites with payouts routed through offshore bank accounts meaning that receiving a check for winnings was always a 50/50 proposition. This overall spectrum created an almost sleazy perception of sports bettors.
Now with wagering being legal, however, this is no longer the case. Going to a sportsbook and betting $100 on your favorite team to win their game later in the evening is just as routine as going to a convenience store and buying a lottery ticket. This adds legitimacy to the idea of placing money on a sporting event. It also embraces the inherent risk-taker culture that America has cultivated in its people for years. This removes the taboo around betting on sports and opens up the possibilities for widespread adoption. This is where our smartphones come into play.
The proliferation of the smartphone changed the way that we do a lot of day to day tasks. Most people use their phones these days as their address book, calendar, music player, primary camera, and primary internet device. It is the innovation of a lifetime that changed the world, for better or worse. Much as smartphone technology changed how we bank and order takeout, it is also changing the way we gamble. The smartphone takes away the stigma, allows betting outside of a casino, and creates an addictive pastime that’s just a few clicks away.
There are roughly 10 different apps on iPhone and Android that can be downloaded to place wagers on sports as of writing this. Since 2018, when the Supreme Court decided to strike down the federal gambling ban outside of Nevada, there have been wagers made totaling over $51 billion across the country, and mobile apps are a big contributor to this number. What the presence of these apps does for the process of gambling on games is take away the intentionality of going to a sportsbook.
Consider this scenario. You and a few of your friends are at a bar or a restaurant and the game is about to start. As you see this, you start talking about the predictions for the game and friendly banter ensues between you and your friends. This is the moment where having these apps is crucial. Instead of merely hoping for bragging rights about making the correct prediction, you can now open an app on your phone to place a bet and then get back to your night.
This capability creates accessibility to anyone of age with a smartphone to place wagers to enhance their viewing experiences. This mainstream adoption of betting has now led to sports networks incorporating gambling-focused content into their programming schedule. FOX Sports 1 introduced the show “Lock It In” (recently renamed to “FOX Bet Live”) as a way to comment on the sports stories of the day from the lens of how it will impact and influence the way that people will bet on the games of the day. ESPN has also recently entered this arena with its Daily Wager slew of programs. The networks are now paying more attention to sports betting because it is no longer a fringe activity among people going to Las Vegas or dealing with their friends. Instead, it has now become a mainstream and acceptable form of entertainment, and the proliferation of these betting apps is a big reason why.
Making a Game of the Game
When I was learning about the ways to make bets the concepts were fairly simple. There were 4 basic categories to understand: money line betting, against the spread betting, over-under, and parlays. Money line was merely picking the winner of a game. Against the spread incorporated point spreads, meaning a team had to win by a certain amount to win the bet. Over-under was merely betting on the point total between the two teams in a game. And a parlay was picking multiple outcomes with one bet to win more money. But with the advent of more sportsbooks and sports betting apps, the possibilities have become numerous and plentiful. To the point that there is a game within a game when betting on sports through these apps. Let’s go over a few of these new ways to bet.
Live In-Game Betting: In the past, if you were late to place a bet after a game started you were out of luck. Live betting changes this. Apps will adjust the odds on a game while it is going depending on what is happening in a game. If a basketball game starts with one team racing to a ten-point lead the live odds will reflect that and give the user a chance to place the bet while the action is happening. Live bets also serve as a decent way to recoup what might be a perceived loss if you happen to be at the wrong end of a lopsided start to a game. This adds a new layer to the gambling experience where the odds are ever-changing, adding to an almost video game-like feel to gambling.
Alternate Lines: Let’s say for example that your favorite baseball team is playing this afternoon. You think that they should win the game, and you think they will win by 4 runs. You open your favorite betting app and see that they are -1.5 runs (favored to win the game by 1.5 runs). Instead of simply taking that bet, an alternate line allows you to go up to -3.5 runs (for the sake of this example), and in return a higher potential payout for you. The inverse can also be true where you get better odds for a less potential payout. This creates a dynamic betting experience that ensures that all players can make bets on the outcomes that they want. In essence, a bet is available for everyone.
Futures: Who hasn’t at one time thought of themselves as a Nostradamus like seer when a team exceeds expectations? This is what future bets are for. Futures allow you to place money on a team or player to reach a certain point or accolade in the future. An example of this is wagering on a team to win the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year, or on a certain player to win Rookie of the Year or League Most Valuable Player. Future betting allows fans to make a season more meaningful for the teams that they follow. This form of betting allows for a long-term commitment to a season as opposed to the short-term one of a single game.
Player Performance Bets: Say you don’t want to bet on the outcome of a game but would rather bet on a player scoring a certain number of points instead. Player bets allow this to become a reality, a great tool for making some money off of your favorite player exceeding performance expectations. This adds another dimension especially if the bettor feels more confident about a player as opposed to an entire team. This adds yet another layer to the in-app betting experience to be suitable for players of all sorts.
These are only a few of the many ways to make wagers on these online sports gambling apps. The idea is simple and has proven to be quite successful: multiple ways to play wherever you are. These apps have now started an advertising blitz to reflect these game modes and have introduced various introductory offers to get people hooked on the game of sports betting. By leaning into convenience, these apps are speaking to a subset of people that have grown accustomed to on-demand services. And it has become clear that the public has an appetite for this sort of entertainment and thrill, for better or for worse.
So far I have made arguments for why legalized sports betting through smartphone apps is a great idea that should be celebrated. But as with many things, there is always a downside to consider. And the downside of making sports betting and gambling ubiquitous is the added risk of addiction. Roughly 10 million people in the United States say that they are gambling addicts. This includes both casino and card games as well as sports gambling addiction, but the number is enormous regardless.
And by making betting on sports (and casino games as there are official apps for that as well these days) fully legal and accessible to more and more people there come the dangers of increased addiction potential. To their credit, the apps that are available today have put in measures to make sure that users are aware of gambling responsibly and limit sessions to 15 minutes at a time. And while this is a good measure, there can always be more done.
A measure that can be done is more prominent messaging and website placement for those looking for help if they have a gambling addiction. On many websites, there is a spot for this but it is a small link at the top of the page that many will overlook. By acknowledging the potential pitfalls of the industry that they operate in, online sportsbooks can show empathy and shed the type of reputation that casinos have for being strictly focused on profitability. A showcase of humanity and concern for its players would go a long way to legitimizing sports betting as a mainstream staple.
Looking to the Future
The rise of sports betting is here, and the adoption will only increase as time goes on. There will be more states to adopt laws to allow for betting on sports and much of this will be done through the variety of betting apps available today. But beyond that, these apps are helping to contribute to a shift in the culture about the viability and acceptance of sports betting as a proper means of entertainment.
This process has started with the NFL allowing for betting lounges in stadiums across the country. These lounges will not allow betting quite yet, but this is a step towards that reality. By these apps making betting more accessible and user-friendly, a need for consumers has been created. Sooner rather than later, the sports leagues will need to adapt.
This means having sportsbooks inside of stadiums that take bets, in addition to potentially adding kiosks that allow for betting inside those stadiums as well. Doing this shows buy-in from the sports leagues that gambling and betting on sports is not the taboo entity that it once was. All of this is made possible by the utilization of technology and the embracing of technology to help change the perception of an entire industry.
For many people, the world of sports gambling is opening up as a possibility. And much how the internet expanded the borders of the world years ago, technology is the driving force behind this growth. The accessibility of sports gambling through these apps is what will drive innovation in the way that we bet and ultimately the way that we watch sports. As with many things in the modern world, our experiences are dictated by steps forward in technology. And the gambling and sports world will be forever changed by it.