MIAMI — Later this year, when the Las Vegas Raiders play their first season in their new home, something will happen in the stands that was unheard of just a few years ago.
Anyone in the stadium with the PlayMGM app can bet on the game as it unfolds in front of them. If Raiders running back Josh Jacobs breaks a 40-yard run and the line moves to the Raiders being favored by 2.5 points, fans will be able to bet it as it happens.
In-game wagering, a staple of betting in Europe for soccer and tennis, is slowly getting a foothold in the United States. Odds change as the game happens, often changing on every play. The bettors flocking to Las Vegas for “Big Game” parties can have an endless buffet of betting options as Super Bowl LIV plays out, and all on their phone.
“In-game betting in the U.S. I think it very much the future,” said Scott Butera, MGM President of Interactive Gaming. “It’s in its infant stages right now.”
A few years ago, in-game wagering wasn’t even possible.
Apps, in-game betting are new to Nevada
MGM introduced its app for betting about two and a half years ago. It can be used by bettors within Nevada state lines. Before then, there were limited betting options. Most of the action came on bets before games started. There were also halftime bets, though for big events, bettors had to battle long lines and hope they got their wagers in on time.
It’s hard to break old habits. Getting in all bets before the game was how wagering was done for decades. Jeff Stoneback, director of trading operations for MGM Resorts International, said MGM was counting on the in-game wagering to be less than 1 percent of the action taken on Super Bowl LIV. (Though considering this year’s Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl could threaten the record of $158.6 million set two years ago, that might still be a big number.)
Here’s how in-game wagering works: MGM uses an outside source for an algorithm that moves the line as win probability changes. For sports like basketball and hockey, with constant action, it’s tougher for customers to get bets in. For a sport like football it’s a good fit, especially in a game like the Super Bowl in which every play seems monumental.
And with the shifts in the point spread on big plays, a bettor can end up on both teams in the same game with a chance to win a couple bets if the final score lands right.
“You can take a team at plus-5 when they’re ahead by 6 points, and then lay 3 points on the favorite a few minutes later,” Stoneback said.
Phone technology has improved tremendously, which helps with in-game wagering. But as networks get faster, and there’s even less lag time between what happens on the field and translating that into a live point spread, sportsbooks will be able to expand in-game betting even further.
“This will get so much more robust as technology improves,” Butera said.
While the algorithm mostly dictates the line, MGM has control of it. If there’s a key injury in Sunday’s Super Bowl, bettors with access to the app and in-game wagering won’t be able to catch the other team at an advantageous point spread.
“If Patrick Mahomes goes down, we may say, ‘We want to take it over,’” Stoneback said, referring to the Chiefs’ star quarterback.
Electronic wagering on the rise
Perhaps in a few years, in-game wagering will mirror the popularity it holds in Europe, where bettors bet on each point of a tennis match.
“It’ll be big here too,” Butera said.
Electronic betting, i.e. using a phone app to make bets, in general is relatively new but growing fast. That should be especially true as more states pass legislation to legalize sports betting. Paper tickets will be replaced by a few clicks on an app.
Butera said MGM took about 10-15 percent of its action on last year’s Super Bowl electronically. He expects that to be about 30-35 percent this year and estimates that will grow to about 85 percent in a few years.
“It’s catching on,” Stoneback said.
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