So picture this scenario: It’s a Sunday afternoon in September 2020, and the Las Vegas Raiders are playing their first regular season game at a gleaming new stadium just off the Strip. The retractable roof is closed, of course, because it’s 100 freaking degrees outside!
But the place is packed: 65,000 fans on hand, including some of the standard Raiders crazies in Darth Vader outfits or jerseys with spikes on the shoulders and such.
Also on hand – and in many hands: the ubiquitous smartphones, many of which will assuredly have a mobile betting application on them.
In the past two weeks, since the Las Vegas Stadium Authority conditionally approved a lease agreement with the Raiders, and the NFL followed by also approving the lease, there’s been much debate about whether bettors will be able to use those mobile apps from within the stadium for in-game wagering.
For the moment, the answer appears to be “Yes… well, yeah maybe.” And for sportsbooks here in Nevada and offshore, along with a company that works on such betting applications, the response is: “Why would it be any other way?”
“This is all not new. It’s just finally reaching the highest levels of participation in Nevada,” said Rich Baccellieri, race and sports industry expert for Stadium Technology, a Las Vegas software company whose products are used by many Nevada sportsbooks. “You could make a case that the halftime wager of 30 years ago was the first in-game wager.”
In-game wagering in its more modern form has been available for several years now, and in Nevada, mobile apps have more and more become the avenue by which bettors place those wagers. Across the pond in betting-mad England, you can literally wager at the stadium, and in-game betting on English Premier League games is a wildly popular option. Even NFL regular season games in London, now a staple on the schedule, allow for betting.
“Every time the NFL brings a game to England, it’s in a legal jurisdiction for in-play wagering. They’ve presented in-game wagering for their sports league for many years,” said Baccellieri, who was also a longtime oddsmaker in Las Vegas. “Now, the NFL is entering a legal jurisdiction in Nevada. I don’t know how they’d prevent it.”
Or more important, why they’d prevent it. Matthew Holt, a vice president with CG Technology and the COO of CG Analytics in Las Vegas, makes just that point on behalf of the books CG Technology operates, including at The Cosmopolitan, Venetian and the Hard Rock.
Specifically, Holt addressed the issue of whether bettors on hand live at the stadium might have an advantage, being able to place in-game wagers before books could adjust odds based on what is happening on the field.
“UNLV reported average attendance at UNLV home football games at 29,000 people last year, with around 8,000 season-ticket holders. UNLV reported that the average attendance last year at basketball games was around 11,600 people, with about 9,000 season-ticket holders,” Holt said. “We have been operating the mobile app for over six years and have never had an issue with either one. People betting from inside an arena or stadium is not a new thing in Las Vegas.”
Holt isn’t arguing that UNLV betting is anywhere near the level of an NFL team. But legal in-game wagering takes place in Nevada on NFL games every weekend from September-January, and a boatload more of it takes place at offshore sportsbooks. Holt is merely pointing out that, between experience gleaned on in-game betting from local events and games around the country, CG and other sportsbook operators have safeguards in place to address issues through which in-stadium bettors might gain an advantage.
“CG Analytics is the largest licensed provider of game integrity and fraud prevention services, which monitor the situation in case any abnormality does ever show up with betting from within an arena or stadium,” Holt said.
Of course, football isn’t the only sport in which books face this issue. There’s even a term for the issue, “courtsiding,” arrived at because it often involved professional tennis. “Courtsiding” described sports betting operations that had spectators in the stands who could transmit information from that event to the betting operation, faster than sportsbooks could receive it. The betting operation could then wager in-game with the advantage of that information.
So, when the Raiders kick off in 2020 here in Vegas, will the mobile-app version of courtsiding take place?
“If that were the case, then it’s going on now, because everybody outside the United States has in-game betting,” said Scott Kaminsky, director of offshore sportsbook TheGreek.com. “Books have been doing live betting on events for like 15 years. It’s not gonna be something that’s going to start if Vegas does it for the Raiders.”
In fact, offshore sportsbooks have successfully dealt with this for years. Scott Cooley, odds consultant for Bookmaker.eu, addressed this example: Someone at the stadium literally has his bet all set up, ready to push the button on his smartphone, just waiting on the outcome of a key play. Then, provided the play has the result he needs, that person immediately submits the bet, before the oddsmaker can adjust. Is that a concern?
“No, that wouldn’t be possible,” Cooley said. “As soon as a team breaks the huddle, we’re freezing the wagering. Adjusted odds pop up after the play is over, as long as there isn’t a penalty. So there might be a 20-second window to place a bet between plays. For the NFL, we do offer play-by-play wagering, but if something major happens, we may put the odds in freeze mode for a play or two. We are watching the games just like everyone else.”
Kaminsky said TheGreek.com has similar safeguards in place.
“If a team has the ball at its own 30-yard line and completes a 50-yard pass, of course you have to take it off, re-adjust the line, and put it back up. But before the players even get down the field, you have the new line up,” he said. “There are delays we’re capable of putting on any sport for protections. If we’re seconds behind (the TV feed) and something happens, our odds will catch up in 3 to 4 seconds, and we have a 7- to 8-second delay.
“Courtsiding was more relevant five, six, seven years ago. I think technology is much better now. I assume there’s not as much of an edge for bettors now. If there’s a guy sitting at a tennis match communicating with somebody in an office, there’s no reason why a company that provides odds can’t do the same thing.”
Further, dollar-amount limits on in-game wagers can help offset any benefit, real or perceived, that a bettor might have. And the technology for oddsmakers, as Kaminsky alluded to, is getting better all the time, which shouldn’t be a surprise, as it’s in the best interest of the books to make that so, as much as possible. That said, Cooley believes offshores are well ahead of Nevada in this realm and advises the state’s books to proceed with some caution.
“We ensure that our live betting platform is as real-time as possible by keeping our technology as up-to-date as possible. We are constantly shopping and improving our software,” he said. “Nevada books have a long way to go to reach the sophistication of live betting that offshore books are at. … It would probably be a bad idea to allow live betting in the capacity we do the first season the Raiders are in town. Those [bookmakers] are smart guys out there, and I wouldn’t expect they would roll it out right out of the gate.”
But they may be able to roll out quite a bit, perhaps thanks to the latest application Stadium Technology is seeking approval on from Nevada gaming regulators. It’s called “Stadium Live,” and Baccellieri said the new app will use third-party odds providers in a method similar to what English books use. That’s an important aspect because, as noted by Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology, the United Kingdom is the most mature sports betting market in the world and has no issues with mobile in-game wagering.
Baccellieri said his company’s new app will offer expanded wagering options and has proper and flexible security measures built in.
“In-game wagering definitely involves some security, including natural delays prior to acceptance of a wager,” Baccellieri said, noting approximately 8 seconds – from the time a bet is submitted to the time it’s either accepted or rejected – provides the necessary security. “The natural delay will be the defense against the players who feel they have an advantage.”
Also worth noting is that it won’t take until 2020 to see how in-venue, in-game wagering shakes out in major professional sports here in Nevada, because the Vegas Golden Knights – the newest NHL team – take the ice this fall at T-Mobile Arena.
At this point, there’s no indication bettors won’t be able to use mobile apps inside the arena. Again, no one would argue that NHL betting is in even the same area code as NFL betting, but it will provide data over the next three years that can further prevent mobile-app “courtsiding” from being an issue for the Vegas books.
And there’s still the not-so-insignificant part of this whole equation: regardless of whether a bettor nabs a short-lived odds advantage, that bettor still has to be right.
“The last time I checked, you don’t cash a bet just because you got the best odds,” Baccellieri said. “I wish I cashed all the bets I ever played where I got the best odds.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.