It’s been only about 13 years since the iPhone made its debut. That little device, or a similar one, seems an extension of all of our hands, for better and worse. And it was only a handful of years ago that cell phones were still banned in most casinos.
It also wasn’t so long ago, about 25 years, that sports bettors had to go to the casino and stand in line to place bets at a teller window. But by the early 2000s, kiosks began appearing in Nevada sportsbooks, streamlining the process for bettors.
Fast forward from Jan. 9, 2007, when Steve Jobs announced his company Apple Inc. would debut a tiny hand-held everything device, to present, where there are three unique wagering experiences: at the window, the kiosk and the phone (plus the laptop/desktop computer). The best thing to happen to sports betting in the U.S. is the smartphone, but the experience is quite different.
‘Put your phone away!’
“It’s ironic,” said Jay Kornegay, the President & General Manager at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino’s SuperBook. “Because it used to be that you could not even have a phone in a casino. Now we encourage people to bet on their phones. It really was a pain in the butt to police that, everyone looked at us cockeyed. … But the convenience of it is off the charts.”
In states like Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there is no question that sports bettors embrace the utility of placing bets on their phones. In the nearly 18 months since legal sports betting went live in New Jersey, mobile sports betting has grown to represent over 80 percent the total betting handle that has reached as much as $500 million in a single month. But how have ATM-style kiosks and later smartphones changed the betting experience?
According to Dan Kustelski, CEO and co-founder of Chalkline Sports, there is a huge difference between betting at a teller window, on a kiosk or on a mobile device.
“If you go to the teller window, and I want to bet on the Minnesota Twins to beat the Kansas City Royals, (the teller) is going to ask for a code (for the bet),” he said. “So, the instinctual thing to say is, “I want to bet the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.’ But they want the code, and suddenly, it’s intimidating. So there’s that. The code doesn’t exist on a mobile phone or at a kiosk. So, I just pick the game I want and the winner.”
Thus betting at a teller window, before a line of other patrons, can be intimidating for some. For a first-time bettor, the odds boards can look like a mass of colored numbers and symbols that are tricky to decipher. Some tellers have been described as “grouchy,” which can further make a first-time bettor feel uneasy. Some are friendly and eager to help. But there are advantages — have a question about how to or even what to bet? — a teller can walk a prospective bettor through the odds boards, why it’s necessary to put down $110 to win $100 for, say, an NFL game, or why multi-leg parlays look so attractive.
Why use a teller window?
“I remember when I made my first bet,” Kornegay said. “It was at Bally’s and I went up there, and it was kind of late in the day. I think it was Blazers-Rockets, there was only one game to bet, and I just up there and said, ‘$10 on the Blazers.’ And the guy barks at me, ‘What’s the betting number?!’ and there was only one game on the board.”
Since Kornegay placed that first bet sometime in the 1980s, the teller window has evolved. Many tellers are younger, all are well-educated on the ins and outs of placing a bet, and they recognize that a large percentage of their customers are novice bettors who need guidance, not gruffness.
“A lot of people (in Las Vegas) don’t hesitate to go to the teller,” Kornegay said. “They want to be educated and make sure they get the right thing. They’re not familiar with the betting process and they want to learn how it works.”
Many of the bigger bettors, including sportsbook veterans, gravitate to the teller windows, an experience they are familiar with, and that allows them to interact with someone before placing a bet.
Kiosks are cheaper than sports betting tellers
But given the intimidation factor, it’s obvious why many new bettors prefer a digital transaction, either on the sportsbook floor or in their hand.
— IGT (@IGTNews) February 16, 2019
Kiosks have become the heart of the sportsbook in many newly legal jurisdictions. While they remain a spotty presence in Las Vegas sportsbooks — Kornegay says his sportsbook has none — bettors are often greeted by an army of kiosks in places like New Jersey or Pennsylvania or Iowa.
On balance, a kiosk costs less than a teller, though one kiosk does not necessarily replace one teller. According to Kustelski, operators note that a single person can tie up a kiosk for hours by “camping” at it, likely to make in-game bet. Kiosks can allow novice bettors a little more freedom to ponder their bets without a line of eager bettors chirping behind him. Of course, lines form at kiosks, too.
“Kiosks are good for people who really, really know what they are betting,” said US Bookmaking’s Vic Salerno. “Like the old racetracks, you hate to go up to the teller because they were old and grouchy. The problem with the kiosk is, if it’s the first time and there is a line behind you, it can be really intimidating.”
Sportsbook friends, we have great news for March Mania! We have added additional kiosks and redesigned the sports betting kiosk area! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/kLt7zEWDcC
— Rivers Casino Pittsburgh (@WinBigRivers) March 2, 2019
While going to a sportsbook, either to place a bet at the window or on a kiosk, allows a player the opportunity to soak in the atmosphere and watch a game with other bettors, the convenience of betting on a mobile device trumps all.
“The person with the phone becomes the book’s employee because he’s got the technology right in his hand,” Salerno said. “They can take as much time as they want, it’s just much more efficient for the sportsbook operator.”
Convenience of betting on the phone
Combine the sportsbook app efficiency with the latest generation’s desire to do things on their own and its nimbleness with technology, and it is no wonder that mobile sports betting is taking off. Though mobile handle in Nevada isn’t nearly as high as it is in New Jersey, both Salerno and Kornegay know the next big thing when they see it.
“Obviously, there are advantages to betting off your phone,” Kornegay said. “You can’t get more convenient that betting off your phone whether you’re at the book or at your kid’s soccer game or at home on your couch.”
But the convenience goes beyond just the ability to place a bet anywhere — novice bettors, in particular, also get the chance to study how a particular sports betting app works and what bets are available with no pressure. And more experienced bettors can build their bets while studying at the same time with a phone rather than doing their homework and then heading to the book.
“The amount of time it takes me to place a five-leg parlay on my phone, well, it could take me 30 seconds or an hour. I mean, it’s my phone, my time,” Kustelski said. “But that engagement time for me, again, it’s my time.”
Stakeholders are responding to the idea that the next generation of bettors might not consider the casino or the sportsbook lounge to be a destination, and mobile apps allow players who weren’t typically in the game to get a piece of the action. For example, in any of the states that have newly legal sports betting, it’s fairly common to walk into a sports bar and see people actively betting while watching a game, giving them a similar experience to being a sportsbook but without the potential hassle of navigating a big casino to get there.
“The phone is just another kiosk,” Salerno said. “It’s just another way for people to bet. I don’t know why we don’t have it yet, but the next thing will be being able to bet on the TV while watching games.
“Phones are everywhere, everyone has them and they are so easy to use. What will happen in these new jurisdictions is that the smartphones will be the only thing. There’s a place in Indiana, the Majestic Star, where they just have televisions, but no (betting) windows. They will not have any retail sports betting, it will all be online, and you can watch all the games there.”
Said Kustelski: “The future of sports betting is like Buffalo Wild Wings. Everyone has access to sports betting on their phones, so why would I go to casino to bet?”