In many states, sports betting has been around for years. The industry continues to expand at a rapid pace, and sportsbooks are offering more markets than ever before. Of course, you have football, basketball, tennis, golf, and other prime-time sports watched by millions.
However, there are myriad emerging sports and smaller leagues making their way to betting sites that are already available for wagers. As new sports surface and gain fandom, how can they make their mark in the betting world, and what does it take for niche sports to become available on sports betting apps?
I spoke with Bill Yucatonis, Co-Founder and Partner at Pro League Network, to discover how PLN brings alternative sports to the wide world of sports betting.
Pro League Network Brings the New and Novel to Sports Betting
PLN’s portfolio of sports and leagues brims with the weird, wacky, and unique. Paintball, CarJitsu, Strongman, and others are among the sports under the organization’s umbrella.
“We have three sports approved for wagering right now,” Yucatonis said. “World Putting League — our professional mini golf brand — SlapFIGHT Championship, and NXL Paintball. Those are the only three we’ve brought forward to gaming commissions. The rest of our sports are at various stages in the process.”
PLN recently acquired SlapFIGHT Championship in full, an effort to further expand the sport’s reach.
Each state has its own rules and regulations regarding which sports can be bet on and how they can jump that hurdle and make it to sportsbooks. Despite the state-by-state differences, Yucatonis notes that the underpinnings of what a state regulator looks for in a beatable sport are very similar.
In his time with PLN, Yucatonis has observed the process directly, going hands-on with operators, leagues, and commissions to bring new sports to betting markets.
Getting the Ducks in a Row
Before a sport can even be presented before a regulating body, many boxes need to be checked. According to Yucatonis, a league needs to be airtight in many ways before it’s feasible to bring it forward for betting consideration.
“All of our sports have an independent group that has tried and true rules, officiating, and oversight for some time with clear, clean history. No incidents, no scandals,” Yucatonis said. “As we went through the rules, there were some cases where we saw some things needed to be tightened up a bit. These things didn’t necessarily affect gameplay; it was more about ensuring there was no gray area in the rules. The structure should be binary without any room for subjectivity in the rules.”
Sportsbooks rely on specific and decisive outcomes for the events they offer. Yucatonis and his team at PLN ensure their leagues have clear rules without any wiggle room for interpretation. When a sport or league first comes under the PLN umbrella, it may not have the history or oversight necessary to make it on a sportsbook. Part of what PLN does is clean up those rules and make them airtight, as Yucatonis described above.
Once a sport is ready to begin the process of becoming bettable, PLN works with partner U.S. Integrity.
“U.S. Integrity researches some of those things I’ve already mentioned — rules, league structure — and provides their perspective on what’s good, bad, or could use tweaking.”
PLN also pushes for integrity at the player level. Regulations and standards may vary by sport, but Yucatonis says PLN ensures all players are paid for competing (in addition to the offered prize pools), understand the aint-wagering policy built into their contract, and abide by drug testing policies.
Only after all of these boxes are checked off will Yucatonis and PLN consider bringing a sport to a gaming commission or regulating organization. From there, the process can vary based on many factors.
Working With Regulators
The rules are locked in. The league has a strong and stable structure. The players are contracted and abide by the league’s rules. Now, it’s time for PLN to kickstart discussions with regulators. These conversations can look wildly different depending on each state’s rules and betting framework, but the goal is the same: help regulators understand the sport, its fandom, and the reason it should be bettable.
“Meeting with regulators in person is really important to us,” Yucatonis said. “We want to talk them through every detail. We take them through every single thing: the rules, the nuances, the history of the athletes, the audience, and so forth. We do that face to face because it’s important for the regulator to have a dedicated space where they can ask questions and understand the sport or league we’re presenting.”
Yucatonis mentions that regulators come well-prepared for such meetings. They do their research, but they’re busy, and it’s not always possible to understand every facet of a sport, especially a new or burgeoning one.
“The other thing that varies by state is the Commissions want to see interest from the sportsbooks,” Yucatonis said. “They want to make sure that there’s market interest and that their licensees want to offer this sport.”
From there, it’s at the discretion of the regulators. In some cases, the sportsbooks themselves have to submit sports for approval. When that happens, Yucatonis says PLN plays a more passive role after the educational goals have been accomplished.
Bringing it All Together
Near the end of our discussion, I asked Yucatonis if we could come up with a step-by-step guide for bringing niche sports to betting markets. Here’s what we concocted:
- Make the rules of your sport and league structure airtight; no gray areas.
- Ensure there’s integrity in the league and with the players.
- Present to regulators, ensuring they understand the sport in its entirety and grasp the opportunity.
- Work through approvals with the operators and regulators.
- Set the odds and offer markets.
As simple as that may sound, those steps can take months or years to complete.
“It’s an art,” Yucatonis said. “Timing varies. If you try to get a niche sport approved at the end of August, when everyone’s focused on football, you’re going to have a hard time. You have to consider the big picture in additional to the nuance of the particular sport you’re putting forward.”