You, you are my reason to live; You make me shine, with all the love that you give; And when I think of you, I keep driftin’ away.
–Living in a Fantasy.
OK, it’s a major stretch to use Leo Sayer’s song to describe the rising numbers in online play, but the reality is the gaming industry is fully aware consumers are heading in that direction,
“We are up 50 percent over last year and last year we’re up 50 percent from the year before,” said John Ford, CEO of BAM Software and Services based in San Francisco.
Ford came to Las Vegas to show off his company and product at the recent Global Gaming Expo. To coin a more common phrase of today the man, “is comfortable in his own skin.”
“Our company has been in operation since 2007 and took advantage of the Lawful Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006, which tried to prohibit what feds called illegal online gambling. It white-listed pari-mutuel wagering and fantasy sports games, which we pursued.”
The two biggest areas Ford hit were horse racing and fantasy sports – the latter only in the last year or so. Horse racing has been where the company has made its living, ironic since that industry has been in a steady freefall for years at the major tracks across the USA.
“We are doing well with horse racing even though the sport is flat,” Ford said. “Total pari-mutuel handles in the U.S. have declined over the last few years. Meanwhile, the online site continues to grow.”
How can this be? If the sport continues to lose its fan base, it seems inconceivable popularity would be found in any other area. And yet Ford said he has the evidence in his research statistics to prove it has.
“It’s what the customer wants,” he said. “You can make a better wager online than at the race track. At the track players have limited data sources. In front of a computer you can get data sources easily and watch as many tracks as you like. Plus there is no limitation to what you can watch or wager on.”
The reason for horse racing’s popularity online is also called marketing savvy, which is exactly why Ford journeyed from Silicon Valley to “Silicone Valley” to gain more customers for his company.
“We launched horse racing in late 2007 and early ‘08 and have grown that business quite dramatically over the last few years,” Ford said. About two years ago we worked on fantasy games and player account management.”
BAM provides bettors with a more convenient and educational way of making a pari-mutuel wager that tracks across the country still haven’t figured out.
“It’s hard at the track to give the bettor good information,” Ford said. “Nothing replaces the excitement of the race track and we urge customers to go there. But this is an age of convenience, and the fact is we are becoming a society driven by cell phones and computers.”
BAM provides over 150 tracks online, including Churchill Downs, Gulfstream, Del Mar and Santa Anita. They don’t have the NYRA tracks in New York, but are working on it.
“In the next five years we figure over 40% of pari-mutuel wagering will be done online,” Ford said.
If that’s the case then the horse racing tracks are clearly not connecting with a potential fan base. They need to find ways to attract customers whether it’s with more slots, food and drink discounts, concerts or what have you.
And Ford’s company has also taken advantage of the federal government’s continued opposition to legalizing sports betting by shifting over to the fantasy world.
“I don’t see legalized sports betting happening,” Ford said. “If it became reality we would pursue that. The recent court decision in New Jersey obviously is not favorable and I don’t see that being overturned.”
Thus BAM turned to the growing craze among sports fans – fantasy leagues.
“One of the reasons we got into fantasy sports is that it is a legal alternative to sports betting,” Ford said. “We are in the daily fantasy market, while Yahoo, CBS and ESPN do seasonal. On our site, we do today’s baseball lineups. Players earn points as they score runs, etc.
On BAM, players can win money every day for a nominal fee whether it’s $1, $5 or $100. Most common is the $10 entry, which with a league of say 10 would net around $90 to the winner counting the 10% deduction for marketing and data cost.
“We do baseball, football, the NBA, the Oscars and even Twitter,” Ford said. “With Twitter we guess who makes the most tweets in a week.”
BAM is working on fantasy horse racing and is sure to pounce on Internet poker whenever California decides to follow Nevada’s lead.
“We have the platform to provide that,” he said. “Sports betting doesn’t concern me at all. Fantasy is the legal alternative and we welcome it to be regulated.”
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].