Panel: esports, sports betting are revenue game-changers

NEW YORK - Mainstream sports leagues are fighting to get a hold on an explosive evolution of regulating sports betting while looking over their should at esports and iGaming.

David Lehanski, senior Vice President of business development and innovation for the NHL, said the league is already in the process of working on avenues to in-game betting based on advanced statistics such as player speed.

"Holistic integration of the content will naturally lead into gaming," Lehanski said. "It's content you're going to see everywhere."

The fastest-growing vertical in betting is esports. A rabid and burgeoning sector of sports with a culture of its own, estimates from an investor panel Thursday at the Sports & Betting USA conference project esports betting as a potential multi-billion part of the betting pie.

Brandon Gill, Buffalo Wild Wings innovation president, said businesses that aren't already planning for the flood of esports into the gambling market are behind.

"We are re-cabling all of our restaurants - we're getting ready for OTT content," Gill said. "If you want to show everything, you have to get ready."

It is important to note that esports gambling is not expected to be regulated or approved in the United States in the near future, but it is a massive business internationally.

Esports plays out largely, but not quite exclusively, via streaming services. Other events, including in fighting and boxing, are exclusively available to cord-cutters.

Marshall Sandman, director of business development for Warner Media, argued mobile is not yet a valid platform for sports viewership because of a regular lag of two or three minutes compared to cable.

Sandman said while viewers will keep their boxes "for a while," he said they're not ignoring the advent of 5G in 2020.

"Unless they're at a family event, when they shouldn't be watching on mobile and can get caught under the table a little bit," Sandman said, adding fans don't use mobile to watch full games.

Reputation risk, Sandman said, and learning how to tackle individual markets is his greatest challenge.

"The opportunity is unbelievable," Lehanski said. "I think it's going to be massive. We have a couple of teams - looking what the (New Jersey) Devils and (Las Vegas) Golden Knights have been able to do - the growth has been incredible."

When it comes to operators in sports betting, most in the industry anticipate a major player will emerge soon.

But entrenched panelists said Tuesday they don't believe Amazon will become a direct major player in sports betting as a sportsbook or consumer-facing gambling pillar.

However, given the amount of consumer data and behavioral metrics Jeff Bezos has handy, a major partnership with a media partner could be likely.

Data could be the buy for Amazon or Google.

Regulators in Illinois and Tennessee are creating legislation that will force data used by sportsbooks to be "official data" from the league in question.

"Companies like Wynn have great credibility without official data," said Seth Schorr, chairman of Downtown Grand Las Vegas. "but obviously the industry is changing."

PGA senior Vice President Andy Levinson said the tour will enter into an agreement for official data.

"LIVE betting is going to require fast, accurate data," he said. "From our point of view the alternative to official data is pirated data, which creates latency. To us, it's essentially stolen data. That creates risk to our users."

--Field Level Media

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