As ZenSports prepares to make its entry in the U.S. online sports betting scene — as Tennessee’s 13th online sportsbook — it has designs on an approach to bonusing not yet attempted by any other sportsbook.
“We look at the industry, and it’s a little surprising to me that a lot of sports betting operators bonus up front before they even know if you’re going to stick with them,” said Mark Thomas, the CEO of KeyStar, which acquired ZenSports last year (Thomas founded ZenSports). “When you go to Vegas you don’t get comped just walking in the door. You have to show you’re going to play.”
With that as the guiding principle, bettors who sign up for ZenSports — whose operator application the Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Council approved at its meeting on Wednesday by unanimous 7-0 vote — will not be receiving “free bets” or “bonus bets.” They will instead receive an offer for 5% cash back on their total betting handle for the first 15 days. And after that, players can receive up to 3% cash back each month.
“We have different tiers of cash-back bonuses that go all the way up to 2% cash back per month based on your play, and another 1% if you don’t withdraw it that month,” said Thomas, who expects ZenSports to officially launch in Tennessee within two weeks. “If you hit $10,000 in handle and five bets a month, you hit the 2% threshold. It goes right into your account as cash. No rollover requirement, you can withdraw the money if you want. If you don’t withdraw that month, you get the extra 1%.”
The ‘Circa model’
Thomas describes it as the sports betting equivalent of a cash-back credit card.
“It’s really mixed up that this is the way the online sports betting industry has worked for the last few years since PASPA was overturned, with the upfront bonuses,” Thomas said. “This is not rocket science, but the way we’re going to do it is the way things should be in the industry.”
Thomas also said ZenSports will be operating under what he called the “Circa model,” with all bettors treated equally when it comes to limits.
“We’re a startup, so we’re not going to be taking any $100,000 bets yet, but we are going to offer limited liquidity for everyone,” Thomas said. “We’re going to start with a maximum bet of $10,000, but your liquidity will be the same as the next person, and the same as the person after that. No one’s liquidity is going to be singled out. We’re not limiting sharps or experienced sports bettors, and definitely looking to take the Circa approach of learning from those folks, possibly adjusting lines.”
Robert Kowalski, KeyStar’s general manager of sports betting operations, will create ZenSports’ lines. (The veteran bookmaker also runs KeyStar’s retail sportsbook at Baldini’s in Sparks, Nevada.) Additionally, Thomas said ZenSports will eventually launch a peer-to-peer system, where bettors can bypass ZenSports’ lines and create their own wagers.
Cash-back bonuses, no limiting of customers, peer-to-peer wagering — this is something different compared to most of what’s been seen so far in the regulated U.S. industry.
“Yeah, we want to be that kind of company,” Thomas said. “Also, we plan on having 24/7 support and quick withdrawals. We know these things matter to bettors, and so they matter to us.”
For sports bettors in other states who like what they hear out of Thomas, the fact is they’ll have to wait to sample ZenSports’ wares.
“We’re going to stick in just Tennessee for nine to 12 months, focus on that market, with eyes on building this into a bigger business,” Thomas said. “The next states we’re looking at are Maryland, Ohio, Colorado, Wyoming, Indiana, and [the Canadian province of] Ontario. Wyoming also allows for crypto wagering, and we see that as a potentially big opportunity for us.”
But the headline for now remains the cash-back program.
“We’re really trying to reward loyalty,” Thomas said. “We’re going to do things differently.”