Sports betting industry predicts ‘microbets’ next big thing, worrying some safe-bet advocates

May 10, 2023, 12:14 PM

A screen at the sports book in the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City N.J. shows Juan Soto, then of ...

A screen at the sports book in the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City N.J. shows Juan Soto, then of the Washington Nationals, hitting a home run on May 12, 2022. On May 10, 2023, panelists at a sports betting conference in Secaucus N.J. predicted a quick rise in so-called microbetting, the type of rapid-fire bets made during a game on things like the result of the next at bat or even the next pitch of a baseball game. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — Imagine being able to make a bet with this level of specificity: the Yankees’ Aaron Judge will hit a home run on the fourth pitch he sees in a given at bat, which will be a curveball spinning at a certain speed.

That $5 bet could win you $5,000.

Of course, it’s unbelievable unlikely to win. But it could be a part of sports betting in the very near future, panelists at a major sports betting conference said Wednesday.

Speaking at the SBC Summit North America, officials with gambling companies and professional sports leagues agreed that more rapid-fire betting — lots more of it — is on the way as technology continues to evolve and legal sports betting expands to new markets.

Andrew Bimson, president and chief operating officer in North America for the data company Sportradar, said microbetting is the fastest-growing segment of in-play betting.

While comparatively small now, he estimated that microbetting could constitute $20 billion worth of bets by 2027.

In-play betting, or bets made after a sporting event begins, is an established segment of a fast-growing industry. Microbetting is a subset of that; a quick, intensely focused bet on the next play or even the next pitch.

In baseball, for example, companies currently offer bets on whether each bater will get a hit, walk, be hit by a pitch, strike out or get an extra base hit, up to a home run.

But it goes deeper than that: Many now let gamblers bet on whether the first pitch of the game, or of a particular inning, will be a ball or a strike, whether it will be put into play as an out or whether it will fall for a hit.

Still to come are bets on the speed of the next pitch. Similar bets are already offered in football, most commonly on whether a team’s possession will end in a touchdown, a field goal, a punt or a turnover.

“Customers are immediately engaged in the bet,” said Mark Hughes, chief product officer for PointsBet. “You don’t have to wait very long for your bet to settle. You’re going to get more play, longer sessions. It’s going to be a really popular bet going into the future.”

Betr, a new microbetting company that is currently live in Ohio and Massachusetts, is building its business around the concept.

“It introduces instant gratification to the sports betting experience,” said Joey Levy, the company’s founder and CEO. He said he believes microbetting could become the preferred way for people to bet on sports before long. He offered the hypothetical Aaron Judge bet as an example of what could be coming soon to the smart phones of gamblers around the country.

And that worries Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, who says the rapid-fire nature of microbetting flies in the face of responsible gambling behavior.

“That heavy frequency is associated with gambling problems,” he said. “You can get a hit of dopamine every few seconds; it’s more akin to playing a slot machine than betting on sports. People can get in this trance-like state where they just try to stay in action, and bet over and over again just to feel that same kind of high.”

Levy, the Betr founder, said companies that offer microbetting need to do it honestly, with full disclosure of risks.

“I may be one of this industry’s only executives that says the house always wins and that customers should expect to lose over the long-run,” he said. “It should be a form of entertainment. We approach microbetting the same way: You allocate $20 or $50 or $100 to make $2 bets on a pitch.”

Scott Kaufman-Ross, vice president and head of fantasy and gaming for the NBA, said microbetting is well suited for basketball’s rapid style of play “because there are so many changes in scoring.”

“Our game is so fast you could have three possessions in the span of eight seconds,” he said.

One betting market the NBA has become interested in is in predicting team streaks. Many sportsbooks currently offer so-called “race-to” bets, in which a customer bets which team will be the first to score 8, 10, 15 or more points. Those bets are made before the game starts, but Kaufman-Ross said the league is interested in crafting similar betting markets during the game to let customers bet on the next sustained run of points.

“Say the (Golden State) Warriors are down 15, and then Steph (Curry) gets hot and the score is then tied — how do you build something around that?” he said. “How do you make that something that happens in-game and predicts the next run?”

Kevin Fulmer, vice president of digital sports for Caesars Entertainment, agreed the new technology presents new opportunities for gambling companies.

“We know the technology is there,” he said. “It’s all about sending the right bet to the right customer at the right time.”

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Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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AP sports: https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Sports betting industry predicts ‘microbets’ next big thing, worrying some safe-bet advocates