In 1987, a teenage boy named Joel Soper rode his bicycle to the Cloverlanes Bowling Alley in Livonia, Michigan. After parking the bike, he walked down the street and snuck into the now-defunct Detroit Race Course to bet on a horse named Bring on the Rain.
“I bet my bet, and it was actually raining out,” recalled Soper. “He won by four lengths and I won like $150. And that was it — I was hooked.”
Over the course of the next 35 years, Soper would earn millions of dollars as a successful landscape entrepreneur — and proceed to gamble away every penny of it, mostly on sports bets.
Soper, who recently published a book, Never Enough Zeroes, about the lessons that can be learned from his epic losing streak, has not gambled in over six months. So what finally made him stop?
“Live betting ruined my life,” he said.
Specifically, push came to shove when, about nine months ago, Soper’s wagering consisted exclusively of live — or in-game — bets.
“I’m betting Russian ping-pong, tennis, live betting as the over/under moves, 38 plays in the same f**king game,” explained Soper, who will be profiled next week on Sports Handle’s sister site, MI Bets.
Of course, bettors like Soper represent one extreme of the sports wagering spectrum. At the other are recreational bettors who just like to get a little action down to make their sports consumption more interesting.
But could the proliferation of in-game wagering (bets placed on a sporting event after it’s begun) and its subset, micro-betting (wagering on individual occurrences within a sporting event, like the result of the next point in tennis), in the United States bridge the gap?
The problem with Paul
A recent peer review published in the Journal of Gambling Issues cited a 2019 Australian study that stated, “Among those who bet on micro events, 78% were considered problem gamblers and only 5% as non-problem gamblers. Among non-micro-bettors, the problem gambling rate was 29%. Micro-bettors were found to be younger, well-educated, and single — and to participate in multiple types of gambling.”
“The research and anecdotal experience confirms there’s a higher risk,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “You can place more bets more quickly — that is a risk factor for any type of gambling. But I think one of the things that’s a little deeper, not necessarily backed by research but from anecdotal experience, is that many sports bettors see it as a game of skill. A lot like some poker players, folks spend an enormous amount of time researching statistics and probability. But most in-play bets remove a lot of that skill and strategy.”
Enter America’s reigning doofus du jour, social media maniac/boxer Jake Paul, who recently announced that he’d be teaming up with Simplebet co-founder Joey Levy to launch a micro-betting app called Betr.
From a business standpoint, their timing couldn’t be, uh, better. In a recent earnings call, Sportradar CEO Carsten Koerl called in-game betting “unstoppable,” adding, “Undoubtedly, once it starts, you can’t reverse it.” And as Sports Handle’s Matt Rybaltowski recently reported, DraftKings just rolled out a new micro-betting market for Major League Baseball pitch speeds, while BetMGM noted in May that its in-game handle had risen 160% on a year-over-year basis.
All told, you can hardly swing a dead cat — presumably one strapped to a bottle rocket and used as a prop in one of Paul’s YouTube videos — these days without hearing the words “in-game,” “in-play,” or “micro-betting.”
In a just-published interview with New York magazine, Paul talked about the “TikTokification” of sports betting and how he and his friends will gamble on just about anything, all the time.
“When we’re all in a house together, there’s got to be at least two bets going every hour,” he boasted.
In New York’s piece, Lisa Power, director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers, is quoted as saying, “By mentioning TikTok, they’re basically saying, ‘We’re pitching this to really young people.’ What we know is that the younger people start gambling, the more likely they are to develop a problem down the road.”
In response, Levy said the only way for Betr to become something “that’s going to endure for the next 20 to 30 years” is by “really championing responsible gambling and being incredibly focused on that.”
By way of reminder, Levy’s business partner in this venture is Paul, an individual not widely recognized for practicing or promoting restraint in, well, anything.
Our first ever episode of BS w/ Jake Paul is now live!
— Jake Paul (@jakepaul) August 11, 2022
“It’s the smartest thing he’s ever done,” said Soper, when assessing Paul’s business acumen in launching Betr. Then again, Soper added, “He’s gonna suck in so many kids and ruin lives.”
Whyte said, “We’re concerned about many of these influencers who have not demonstrated much social responsibility across their brand or platform, and we fear they’re going to take a similarly irresponsible approach to gambling and sports betting.”
“Just because Jake Paul tends to skew to a much younger audience, and I’m a firm proponent of 21 should be the age for gambling, it’s a little dangerous to put that in the hands of an 18-year-old or someone who doesn’t quite understand the consequences of money,” added Captain Jack Andrews (a pseudonym), a professional gambler and co-founder of the sports betting education site Unabated. “I’m a little bit concerned about Jake Paul getting involved and I don’t want [his followers] to view micro-betting as everything that’s involved in your absorption of sports has to be a bet. ‘Is this a run or a pass? Bet now!’ It does kind of hyper-actualize sports observation.”
Livin’ on the edge
Given that he makes a living in the sports betting field, Andrews isn’t necessarily opposed to micro-betting and is, in fact, quite bullish on the broader in-game sector.
“As a sharp bettor, I like in-game betting because it’s harder for the sportsbook to spot the sharp action,” he explained. “There’s really no closing-line value because the line is always moving. It’s not necessarily indicative of the sharpness of the bettor. I can disguise my action a lot better in-game, get that edge, and the sportsbook doesn’t quite see that edge. I believe, personally, that sportsbooks are so blinded by this belief that in-game is where they need to be that they don’t see wins and losses.
“The problem that I have with micro-betting is the house edge is very high in those markets,” he continued. “What will be the outcome of this at-bat? You have four options. You can generally expect to have an 18 to 25 percent house hold on that market, and that’s hard to overcome for any bettor, a sharp or a square or whatever. Joey Levy also founded Simplebet, which is doing all these micro-betting markets. I’d like to see more competition so that house edge shrinks down and people try to get competitive based on price.”
Echoing Whyte’s sentiment somewhat, Andrews compared micro-betting to slot machines, explaining, “Instead of having three hours for your bet to resolve, you have 30 seconds — then you can make another bet. If the recreational bettor sees it like it is, if they’re okay with that, it’s their choice to play it or not. It’s not like it’s deceptive. I would argue that same-game parlays are more deceptive, because you don’t necessarily understand the math around them.”
Returning the favor, Whyte added, “I think parlays are particularly difficult to understand for the average bettor. But it can be fun and also appeals to recreational gamblers who are not strategy-based. Some of the elements that make micro-betting entertaining may make it appeal more to a recreational player, and that might be a good thing. It’s just like the lottery — the odds are probably really bad. If you know that going in, then have fun with it.”
Will it even work?
Professional sports bettor Bill Krackomberger has a simple rule when it comes to in-game wagering: Never place a live bet unless it’s during a commercial break.
“I’d be concerned about being put into a queue where you’re going to be on a delay where already they have a seven-second TV delay and another five-second AM frequency delay,” he explained. “You’re on 12 seconds and you get put in a queue for another five to eight seconds, now you’re on a 20-second delay. Now you want to throw in micro? Oh boy. I don’t think we’re there as a sports betting community yet.”
To this end, Keith Whyte said, “I think micro-betting exploits the information asymmetry between the books, the data management companies, and the individual player.”
Krackomberger and Whyte have an unlikely ally in Deck Prism Sports co-founder Ed Miller, whose firm, with financial backing from Las Vegas Sands, recently merged with Huddle Gaming to form Huddle Tech. Miller and his fellow Deck Prism co-founder, Matt Davidow, literally wrote the book (The Logic of Sports Betting) on in-game betting, an experience Miller found to be “terrible” until he and Davidow decided to devote their professional lives to improving it.
“There were many ways that it was terrible, but the one we thought we could solve was how much friction between the customer and getting the bet made — delays with spinny wheels, bet rejections, arbitrary limits, odds moving too quickly,” said Miller, who has counted Circa Sports among his clients. “There’s some threshold where if you try to make a bet and it doesn’t go through, if that happens frequently enough, at some point people are gonna get fed up with it and say, ‘Forget this, I’m gonna go do something else.’ All that friction is a defensive measure. The book wants to avoid getting taken advantage of, and we felt we could solve that problem with technology.”
While he feels as though he’s largely accomplished his mission of creating a live odds feed “that’s clean enough and fast enough,” Miller groused, “Another problem with some of the in-game betting is that when the bets do go through, the vig is really high. It’s something the books do to guard themselves against the sharper customer, but it degrades the experience of the casual customer. The book’s not worried about some guy who’s a $5 bettor; it’s worried about a more sophisticated bettor who’s wagering $500.”
In a perfect word, he said, “I think these could be good, fair products that are fun that don’t cost a recreational bettor a ton of money.”
While he declined to comment specifically on Levy and Paul’s venture, Miller did say, “Micro-betting is almost a marketing term that some companies have invented. But creating odds feeds is a hard problem. I think sportsbooks are going to have a hard time with these products.”