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SBC Americas: ALT Sports Data: How offbeat sports make it into US sportsbooks

The betting catalogs across the United States continue to grow along with sports betting. Some states are taking wagers on everything from the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest to competitive slap fighting.

While some states are keen to expand the catalog, others have voiced their concerns about allowing too many sports too quickly, particularly sports that are judged. With the rapid growth of the catalog, particularly during the slow summer months, it can often be confusing which sports are allowed in which states. It also raises questions about why and how these sports are gaining approval.

Integrity and governing bodies key to alternative sport success

ALT Sports Data is one of the groups pushing to grow the scope of sports Americans are wagering on, but at the heart of the efforts is a focus on the same things regulators and those concerned with integrity are worried about. They also understand that, within the industry, there are some questions about how these sports function and, more importantly, how bettors and regulators can know they are conducted with integrity.

“I think maybe the groundwork was laid in this in the initial hype around eSports and things that really were a pretty far leap from traditional sports. Our sports are an extension, a very logical extension, of traditional sports, they just happen to be in a slightly different format. And so I think sometimes we initially have gotten lumped into that sort of eSports category,” theorized ALT Sports Data CEO Joe Dunnigan.

ALT Sports Data’s portfolio of sports includes skateboarding, surfing, Power Slap, the rodeo, and even tag. While those seem very disparate, ALT Sports Data’s CMO Todd Ballard explained to SBC Americas what they have in common.

“It was really important for us in the early goes to really align with those leagues that did have governing bodies behind them along with deep competitor rule books, judging or performance criteria, anti-doping policies, anti-gaming policies. It’s probably much more sophisticated than maybe the gaming industry thinks of when they think of surfing, skateboarding, and motocross.”

With more sports coming to them than they can handle, ALT Sports Data has the ability to pick and choose partners. For those that don’t already have robust integrity monitoring and oversight though, there are still options to move forward.

“The ones that we’ve decided to work with are going through that process and working with preferred partners of ours, like a US Integrity or a OneComply to really develop a lot of that governing body needed infrastructure. We’re even starting to do some of that ourselves,” Ballard explained. “We brought in an individual from the AGA who’s helping work with some of our partners to really ensure that they’re establishing the right protocol and making the regulators feel more comfortable with some of these leagues.”

Getting buy in on new sports from operators and regulators

Ensuring they are working with sports that take integrity oversight and governing bodies seriously is step one. Step two is getting buy-in from operators that these are sports worth taking wagers on and then determining what markets it is they should offer.

Certainly, the leagues themselves come to the table with some ideas about the data they have and what markets they can create, but Ballard said it is something that involves working with operators to scope out how to wager on the sport.

“It’s more of a collaborative effort where the operator says, ‘We believe this is interesting. We interpret the data and understand that we can establish these markets.’ We also look at what’s tradable and what’s logical, given the progression of the sport. If it’s brand new, we’re probably not going to go to really advanced deep derivative markets. It’s more betting 101 to begin with, to some degree,” Ballard said.

The idea is not to inundate a bettor with hundreds of markets for a new sport. Moreover, operators don’t want to overinvest in a new sport until there is proven interest in it. Finally, for regulators, it is oftentimes more comfortable to approve a few obvious markets, like game lines, on a new sport instead of hundreds of micromarkets.

Once an operator thinks a sport is worth adding to the catalog, it often falls on them to bring these sports to the regulators, as several states require these petitions to come from operators rather than leagues.

“They help us because they have the relationships and obviously they can they can drive that in a lot of instances a lot more efficiently than we can, but we’ll do as much of the heavy lifting as we possibly can, working with the leagues,” Ballard said.

Going to the regulators with new sports can often be very strategic. Ballard and Dunnigan cited Colorado, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Arizona, and New Jersey as states that are more willing to embrace newer sports. The support from Pennsylvania is particularly helpful, as the state has very clear regulatory mandates that the state’s sportsbooks can only offer wagers on sporting events.

On the flip side, New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts are generally more wary to add sports to the catalog. They attribute some of that to the fact these are three of the newer states, so they are dealing with a glut of regulatory requests.

“Part of it is just trying to be strategic of when we want to put in front of them knowing that we don’t want an immediate rejection and maybe it’s better to wait a little bit just because, with the time they currently have, it is easier to say no than yes,” Ballard said.

Being July, the discussion of fleshing out the sports calendar with more betting options always crops up. When it comes to betting these alternative sports, Ballard did say that the total handle has exceeded expectations, but really these markets are tools for customer acquisition.

“The operators are all fighting for the same customer and it’s driving the acquisition costs through the roof. What we’re saying is, ‘look, there’s a whole other pond of fish next door here that’s just untapped.’ And it’s, if we can offer some top-line markets and get them in, it’s a great access point. The studies have shown once they’re in and they’ll bet on the World Series, they’ll bet on the Super Bowl, and they’ll bet on March Madness.”

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