Betting on sports has never been more high stakes or more accessible. But with the entry of European-based companies into the game, professionals are feeling the pressure and are increasingly restricted from doing their jobs. Is This The End Of Professional Sports Betting?
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«I’m not a bookie,» Gadoon Kyrolos tells me as we walk through the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, playing penny slot machines. «I’m a sports bettor.» Kyrollos is one of the largest sports bookies in the United States. He bets millions of dollars every year on sporting events, from NFL games to the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. He’s known in the gambling world as Spanky, and in his hoodie, sweatpants and backpack, he looks like a 40-year-old Little Rascal. However, there were no school books and snacks in his bag. It’s full of money bricks, about $150,000 worth.
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«The bookies hang the numbers,» he explains, as he imagines holding a gun with a sight in his eye and pulling the trigger. «And I catch them.»
Despite a bag full of money, Spanky is set upon by a penny slot machine, into which bills are pumped out one after the other. On his phone he looks at a spreadsheet that tells him how to run the machine to «plus EV» or target value, meaning the player has an edge over the machine over time. «This is some real internal shit I’m showing you here,» he tells me, pointing to his spreadsheet, which links formulas from several different machines. «I mean, it might be a twelve dollar tip, but if you were walking down the street and you saw twelve dollars, you would bend over and pick it up, right?»
It is important for Spanky to understand the difference between book and bet, as many people do not understand or appreciate the difference, including the Queens District Attorney who charged Spanky with betting in 2012 , a crime which he said stems from a wide spread . Misunderstanding of this business.
This misunderstanding will spread like a wild fire. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, paving the way for states to lift restrictions and regulate bookkeeping. New Jersey, where Spanky lived his entire life, was one of the first states to do so, and in less than a year it experienced a gold rush. New Jersey currently has 10 physical and 14 online sports books, which have collectively held over $1.5 billion in bets. Seven other states have moved quickly to follow New Jersey’s lead, with 29 now considering sports gambling bills in their state courts. But the way business is done in the United States troubles many bookmakers, including Spanky, who invited me to Atlantic City to learn more about the «dying art form» of bookmaking. He and I would deposit our money, I would bet 1 cent, and he would show me how to bet like a pro. Then I can see for myself how the companies that take over the sports betting industry in the United States have destroyed the art of betting, and how they are destroying sports betting in the process.
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As we were walking the Atlantic City Boardwalk on a chilly Monday night in March, Spanky, 40, asked me about my sports betting experience. «If I said you should bet over 134.5 and you see the number is 135, would you bet?» «No,» I reply, not quite sure I get it, but careful not to show hesitation. «That’s right. What if I said you should bet the Lakers +7 and the number is 7.5, would you bet?» «Yes,» I replied, this time with more confidence.
«Look, you know what you’re doing. But you’d be surprised how many people have a problem with it.» I don’t tell him that doesn’t surprise me at all. We stop at the end of the boardwalk at the Edge of the Ocean Casino. Spanky gave me the bag. «I have to leave you here. You don’t want to be on camera with me.»
, I ask him trying to cover up my anxiety. «They don’t let me bet there. And if they see you talking to me, they might not let you gamble.
According to industry research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, sports gamblers fall into seven distinct categories: casual players, status seekers, super fans, event chasers, achievers, high achievers and introverts. These guys exist in a chain, where some of them develop as others as they climb the ladder from casual players to exceptional players – players who can regularly hit home runs. Spanky was once seven years old. Today he is known as the fastest player with the biggest bookies in the world. This means that his bets are usually limited. For some bookies this means that their action is completely unacceptable.
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Spanky takes my hand and turns and walks down the boardwalk. I take a deep breath, slung the bag heavy with cash over my shoulder and enter the casino.
Less than a year after bookmaking became legal in New Jersey, several European companies have jumped in to offer their services to book sports betting races and licensed casinos. These companies offer turnkey operations with statistical analysts, technology for things like mobile gambling, software and models for bettors and risk management, access to data from sports games, and international money pools. For a casino or racetrack that is unsure of how to run a sports book, or concerned about getting involved in a high-risk offering in the gaming business, these companies are offering irresistible offers. «To borrow a piece, America is considered the land of opportunity within the industry,» says Paris Smith, CEO of Curacao-based Pinnacle, one of the world’s largest sportsbooks. «It is also seen as a win for European users and retailers, who have had to endure the growth and saturation of their markets in recent years.»
But for gamblers, especially professionals, the rapid expansion of some of these European companies into the US market is alarming. The European betting model is seen by many as hostile to successful players. During a panel at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, «Skin in the Game: The Emergence of Sports in the U.S.» Under the title, moderator Jeff Ma challenged one of the panellists, Sharon Otterman of UK-based bookmaker William Hill, to the idea. Aggressive and restricted players from a culture of restraint who win. Otterman defended his company, saying, «We have a business. We are not for profit. ,
Sports betting expert Alan Denkenson thinks the explanation is simpler than that. «It’s easier to write your money in squares,» he tells me. He is still allowed to bet with William Hill, although «I am now one of the fastest bettors because he put everyone out. One day when they put me out someone else will take my place. .. If you make some big bets you’re allowed to lose. If you grind to $20K you’re screwed.»
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«To borrow a cliché, the US is seen as a land of opportunity within the industry. It is also seen as a winnable prize for European users and retailers, who have been forced to expand their markets in recent years.» Growth and saturation have suffered.» -Paris Smith, CEO of Pinnacle
It’s not just William Hill. DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports company that entered bookmaking in New Jersey, signed a deal with the Cambi Group, which is headquartered in Malta and takes a similar approach to so-called draft players. And players don’t even need to win $20,000 to get noticed. «I used to follow baseball games and bet on ‘runs scored in the next inning: yes or no,'» says «Captain» Jack Andrews (not his real name), a professional gambler who lives in New Jersey and regularly Comments regularly on betting forums and Twitter. “By mid-September I was down to $600 betting on DraftKings and realized I could never bet more than $100 on a single betting move.” Andrews then realized that his bets on all sports, including the NFL, were limited. «No one should be afraid to place a bet on the NFL because it works very well. The numbers are updated during the weekend in the form
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