On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I had just finished a sushi dinner with my family in Las Vegas’ Arts District when we summoned an Uber to drive us to a Miranda Lambert concert on the Strip. We were picked up in a Tesla. I drive a ’92 Volvo station wagon. Suffice it to say, I didn’t know how to open the Tesla’s doors.
Our driver, a former blackjack dealer in the Philippines who was trying to find similar employment in Sin City, helped load us into the electric car and headed down Charleston toward Interstate 15. Shortly before we were to enter the freeway, I heard a fart noise in the back seat.
“Uh-oh,” I thought. “She did it again.”
A few hours earlier, one of my daughters passed gas so silently and violently that we felt compelled to temporarily evacuate our hotel room. I was grossed out, sure, but also impressed that someone of such small stature could manufacture a literal room-clearing fart.
As I waited for an unpleasant aroma to fill the Tesla, I noticed some whoopee cushion animation on the car’s command module and remembered, “Oh yeah — fart mode.” For the uninitiated, fart mode is the sophomoric brainchild of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who now owns Twitter as well. Officially known as “emissions testing mode,” it allows the driver to make it sound as though someone has farted, with the touch of a screen.
It’s sort of funny, sort of offensive, and cuts against all understanding of the sort of features people traditionally appreciate in a consumer good. Bottled up, it’s the essence of Musk, stinking and winking all the way to the bank.
Musk’s first month in charge of his favorite social media platform has been, um, eventful! He’s fired most of the company’s staff, charged money for account verification for a hot second, and scared off advertisers and certain users who fear that he’ll obliterate moderation controls and turn Twitter into even more of a cesspool than it already is. (It’s worth noting that some of the same liberals who shut down their Twitter accounts out of disgust with Musk — much of it warranted — seem to have no qualms about continuing to charge up their Teslas.)
Truth be told, Twitter was showing signs of decline well before Musk took the reins, losing “heavy tweeters,” celebrities, and younger users to platforms like Instagram and TikTok. So what, then, does the future hold for Twitter — and, more specifically, for sports betting Twitter, which has become a significant resource for bettors and bookmakers alike?
Political ideology relatively unimportant
Reactions to Musk’s manic missives have ranged from “Twitter is going to become the next MySpace” to “Twitter is too big to fail,” with The Ringer concluding, “How this saga ends is anyone’s guess. It seems too elegant that the world would wake up one morning and try to log on to Twitter, only to discover that it no longer exists. What’s more likely is a slow, sad death, where all the twisted geniuses who once made the platform great slowly filter out to TikTok (where culture was already headed), Substack, Mastodon, and other communities. All that’ll be left of Twitter will be one man’s enormous ego and the sycophants tripping over themselves to prop it up.”
But Horse Racing Nation columnist Ron Flatter’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek assessment might prove more relevant to sports betting types who favor the platform.
“Twitter was the perfect fit,” wrote Flatter. “It was new enough to make the game’s aging establishment think it was a cool way to reach the young. It also was user-friendly enough to attract old Luddites the way a saucer of milk is irresistible to a nervous cat. … By the time racing media got its arms all the way around Twitter, that coveted youth demographic already had scoffed at it and moved on to forums like Snapchat and later TikTok. Yet the house that Jack Dorsey built felt like a home to those of us who were in the business of exchanging information.
“Maybe there is a dark angel out there who will rescue Musk from his bloodbath of red ink peppered with pink slips. If not, then those of us who crave a social media place for racing better get up to speed on an alternative. And fast. I think I can figure out the Tumblr gadget, but I hope I can find a young friend who will teach me how to turn on that Mastodon machine.”
“I think, in a lot of ways, we’re in uncharted waters as far as how this might turn out. Most of the other tech giants aren’t so universally associated with the owner,” said Josh Grubbs, an associate professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. “It appears to me that a lot of professors, academics, and researchers are leaving Twitter in droves, especially for this Mastodon thing. We trend incredibly leftist politically. Notably, a libertarian tech billionaire buying a platform is chasing against our value set.”
But when it comes to sports betting Twitter, Grubbs said, “My bet is that the exodus is going to be quite small. My impression of sports betting is that political ideology and affiliation is not the most important thing.”
‘All imperfect substitutes’
If Musk does run Twitter into the ground, where might the sports betting community seek online refuge? Both Grubbs and Kahlil Philander, a gambling economics researcher at Washington State University, mention Discord, Mastodon, and Reddit as potential landing spots — each of which come with their share of limitations.
“The barrier for using Mastodon is much higher than Twitter,” said Grubbs. “Reddit and Discord would be my first expectations. If Twitter really does fall, I don’t think its replacement is on the market yet. Looking at the alternatives out there, they aren’t so much alternatives as they are totally different things.”
“What the product landscape looks like right now is there are all imperfect substitutes,” added Philander. “One of the benefits of Twitter is the way that it’s used is you can kind of have conversations in-group, but other people can follow along with that conversation. You don’t really see that mixture of real identities and large pseudo-identities with strong branding value along with that passive user base in the same way on other platforms, like Reddit or Discord.”
Another possibility is that Twitter joins its longtime rival, Facebook, on social media’s equivalent of the Senior Tour.
“I think what you see with any of these major social media platforms is the network effects are so powerful that it really takes a lot to move everybody off of the platform,” said Philander. “You think about how people would spend a lot of time on Facebook and they still have Facebook, but they use it in a very different way than they would 10 years ago. That’s one thing to think about in the context of how does a platform with already strong network effects change? Will it go away completely or will its use change over time? If there are changes effectuated on the platform, it won’t cease to exist, it will just have a different purpose.”
If this type of shape-shifting occurs, Philander allowed that “more niche interest could get split off the platform (Twitter) over time. You might expect that some major accounts don’t necessarily want to give up the strong followings they have on a big platform, but maybe they start to curate smaller communities like Discord, which is gated, or on Reddit, which is more open.”
Philander went on to explain that “there are analogies to platforms with strong network effects that can segment. A strong example is a dating app. In the early days, you just want to get as many people on the app as possible, but as the platform continues to get larger, you have a tougher problem with matching people effectively than with finding people in general. That’s why you see niche things like FarmersOnly. This happens in gambling markets, too, with things like online poker. Once the network is big, you want to get the right kinds of people on the platform.”
Such fragmentation might be a boon to upstart sites like BettorOff, which has built what it believes to be a more trustworthy version of Twitter, where anyone who sells picks must provide verifiable wagering data to support their claims.
“We were trying to solve problems on Twitter before all of the Elon Musk stuff thrust them further into the news,” said BettorOff CEO Alex Dubin, noting that his company’s user base has grown exponentially since Musk took over Twitter. “Even before Elon, the sports betting community’s issues with Twitter, there were a lot of them. You’re talking about a platform that has never verified pick histories, that has never stopped people from deleting tweets, having multiple accounts. Transparency of data and the accountability that comes along with it, specifically those who are tagging themselves as experts and charging for their picks, Twitter has never been a platform that has allowed the sports betting community at large to verify any of that.
“There are going to be some big-time Twitter sports wagering ‘experts’ who are not going to like us, who are not going to want to be anywhere near us, and that’s the goal. Some of them might just not have the infrastructure or the time to provide their followers with all of their verified picks and stats. On the other hand, you have truculent self-promoters who are all about style and less about substance. A platform like ours, anyone who tries to sell picks will have to provide their statistics free of charge. Some of them will not want to be within a country mile of us.”
Significant engagement gap
With over 42,000 followers, veteran sports bettor Bill Krackomberger is the type of Twitter user who might appreciate what Dubin is trying to do.
“Gambling Twitter is a lot of guys who hide behind anonymity,” he said. “Trust me, 95 percent of them don’t have as much money on games as I do. Not that that makes me a big shot; very rarely do I brag about what I bet.”
Krackomberger said that while he doesn’t scroll through his Twitter feed, he posts regularly and checks his notifications, which he values for breaking information about injured players that might move a line.
“If a key injury is on one of the notifications, it’s good to jump on that,” he said.
Vegas-based sports betting personality Dave Sharapan, a former bookmaker, has perspective from both sides of the counter.
“I started using it while I was in the risk room for information and was able to connect with people I never would have been able to connect with,” said Sharapan, a stroke survivor. “I went from writing a blog and having 12 followers to talking on air and having a pseudo-career and 25,000 followers in two years. It’s big for me. I enjoy it. I don’t know what it would mean if it changes. I have all the other platforms, but I have not nearly as much engagement or desire to participate as I do on Twitter.”
When asked to envision a future where Twitter ain’t what it used to be, Sharapan speculated, “If I was to make lines, the kids think Instagram is the next place where people will go to do stuff like that. TikTok is too short. It’s probably something you and I don’t know that’s being worked on. I’ve met a tremendous amount of good people on sports gambling Twitter. You can get caught up in all the negative and, especially since my stroke, I’ve tried to focus on the positive in life, even on social media. I would hope it wouldn’t change too much, and I’d bet on that. I don’t think the guy (Musk) bought it to make it go away.”