The Rise of Official Betting

After the Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting, states have been able to decide for themselves whether or not to allow it. Some have, and those that have are offering a wide variety of betting options. These options include traditional bets on games and teams, as well as prop bets on things like how many yards a certain quarterback will throw for or who will score the first touchdown. One type of prop bet that is gaining in popularity is official betting, where sportsbooks are required to use data provided by the leagues.

The concept of empowering the leagues to control US sports betting data flow first surfaced in a lobbying document circulated by the NBA and MLB in February 2018. The documents advocated for a system that would require all sportsbooks using their product to have rights to official data from the respective sport’s governing body. In addition, the proposals called for a requirement that sportsbooks “regularly submit wagering data to the governing bodies for review.”

State legislatures began to take up the proposal in 2018, and Illinois became the first to incorporate the concept into its sports betting law. Tennessee followed suit this year, with lawmakers passing a bill that includes the data mandates. Other states have chosen to allow regulators discretion over the sources of sports betting data, which has made the leagues’ push for official data a moot point in those markets.

While the NFL has embraced the growth of legal sports betting, other pro leagues have taken a more cautious approach to it. The NHL, for example, has signed sponsorship deals with MGM and William Hill that include a provision that allows bookmakers to use NHL-provided data on player performance. However, the NHL has also sought to impose its own restrictions on the usage of data. The league has opposed any efforts to prohibit the use of data that would disclose an athlete’s biometric information without their consent.

Some of the most famous scandals in sports history have stemmed from gambling. The 1919 World Series fix, for instance, involved professional gambler Joseph Sullivan paying eight members of the Chicago White Sox around $10,000 each to lose the series. The gambler was banned from baseball for life, and Pete Rose’s career was ultimately cut short after he admitted to placing bets on his own team during his playing days. Those types of incidents have helped keep pro leagues reticent to embrace sports betting, but the industry has been quick to shift since the Supreme Court ruling. It’s now common to see players promoting sportsbooks and even participating in the launching of new games. Some of those games, such as scratch-offs and pull-tabs, feature transparent areas where bettors can see how much they have won. Others are more subtle, with bettors having to guess at what they will find behind opaque sections of the games. Regardless of the format, the games all involve some form of risk-taking and have the potential to change a fan’s experience with a sports franchise.