UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – The ‘rainy season’ is here, and the storm is building

What I’m calling the rainy season begins next week. That’s when the National Football League—sports betting’s biggest attraction—commences its first 17-game season in history.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Caesars Entertainment Inc., DraftKings Inc. and FanDuel Group are the NFL’s official sportsbook partners in a five-year, $1 billion (billion, with a B) deal that allows them to display game highlights and team logos in their gambling apps, as well as advertise during game telecasts—a first.  WynnBET, BetMGM, Points Bet and Fox Bet also are authorized to advertise during games. The NFL, reported The Journal, capped the number of sports betting services that could advertise (and the number of in-game spots) to prevent them from dominating telecasts and turning off fans who don’t gamble—and may even disapprove.

The tens of thousands of people who do bet—from avid fans to serious gamblers—will risk millions of dollars on not only the outcomes of games, beginning with Dallas at Tampa Bay next Thursday night, but also: 

whether the sum of the score of any given game will be greater or less than the Over/Under number; 

whether the first score of a game will be a touchdown or a field goal, and if a touchdown, whether it’s a run or a pass play; 

in which quarter the most points will be scored;

and countless other prop (short for proposition) bets.

Colorado bettors, however, won’t be able to wager on what color the Gatorade will be when a given coach is doused at the victorious conclusion of a specific game; nor will they be allowed to put their money on Heads or Tails in the pre-game coin toss. Such propositions are not resolved by skill; thus, they’re off limits—at least, in the Centennial State.  (Some other states are not as discriminating.)

The object of all this betting, as the hip gal in the DraftKings TV commercial says, is to “MAKE . . . IT . . . RAIN,” which is gamble-speak for winning a bunch of money.

Online sports betting in Colorado was legalized in the November 2019 election and went into effect May 1, 2020. Since then, numerous betting services have bombarded residents (especially Rockies TV viewers and radio listeners) with “new customer” promotions such as “risk-free” bets and one-time returns ranging between 150-to-1 and 500-to-1. 

Of course, those “first-timers” don’t receive actual money. They “win” or are “reimbursed” betting credit, so that they will play again and, presumably, again and again. Drug pushers use a similar tactic, discounting the first few hits until a “new customer” is hooked, then raising the price.

Colorado is one of 22 states (including nearby New Mexico and Arizona) in which legalized sports betting is currently operational (plus the District of Columbia). Ten more states, including neighboring Nebraska and Wyoming, have legalized sports wagering and soon will be operational. 

The online sports-betting boom is so great that, last Friday, it was reported that 24-7 sports cable Goliath ESPN is exploring a multibillion-dollar (this, too, is billion, with a B) branding deal with one or more of BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel and possibly other major players in the burgeoning field. One of those other possibilities is NFL partner Caesar’s Entertainment, which paid $4 billion (also with a B) to acquire British sports-betting giant William Hill then formed Caesar’s Sportsbook. A deal with any of these could result in the sportsbook incorporating ESPN’s name into its own and committing to a significant advertising presence on the network.

Similarly, Major League Baseball has gone to great lengths to maintain control over the announced distance of every home run, to force betting services to rely on ball clubs as the source of the data that determines the outcome of those prop bets. And that’s only a start. In the future, the ties between betting services and MLB Network will grow, and real-time wagering will be a staple.

Participation is increasing steadily, but it’s virtually impossible to say exactly how many Coloradans place bets even in a given month, because so many are playing with multiple betting services.  Money, though, is another matter.

Sports betting nationwide is projected to reach $4 billion this year, and will only grow from there. In October 2020—one month—almost $211 million was wagered in Colorado alone. In June of this year—eight months later—almost $230 million was bet in our state ($74.88 million on basketball, $54.55 million on baseball). Ninety-nine percent of all wagering was transacted online. 

In those two months, the “house” or the bookies or the betting services (choose your term) recorded a winning percentage of better than 8.25% in Colorado—after taxes, promotional costs and payouts to bettors who won. Taxes benefit the Colorado Water Plan.

Sports betting in Colorado, of course, isn’t limited to pro football, or even to pro sports. Or to “sports.” 

The chairman of the Colorado Gaming Control Commission, Richard Nathan, tells me you can even wager on Corn Hole! He also said there was an Over-Under number on Joey Chestnut in this year’s Hot Dog-Eating contest at New York’s Coney Island. (Chestnut broke his own world record and went “Over” by consuming 76 dogs—with buns.)

Getting back to the rainy season, what about the Broncos?

BetMGM’s pre-season Money Line on Denver winning Super Bowl LVI next February is +5000, which means a $100 wager pays $5,000 if they win. That equates to 50-1 odds. (Pittsburgh Steelers also is +5000. Nineteen teams have a better chance than the Broncos and Steelers, according to this betting service.)

Chairman Nathan eschews personal judgments about gambling, noting that he and the commission are charged only with ensuring that betting services are playing by the rules and bettors aren’t being cheated. Which is reassuring detachment.

Nonetheless, I’d feel I was remiss if I didn’t conclude this column with the salve the betting services are required to include in their ads:

“Gambling problem? Call …”

(The National Problem Gambling Helpline Network line is 1-800-522-4700.)

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at info@comservbooks.com.