Sports betting in the US used to be illegal, for the most part. Now it’s up to individual states to decide if they want it. Besides Nevada, which has always had legal sports betting, a handful of states have authorized it, with only New Jersey jumping in completely. But with estimates of US sports gambling hovering around $150 billion annually, it won’t be long before many states decide they want a piece of that action.
So here’s the question for media companies that are hoping to profit in some way from the billions of dollars gamblers are going to bet on sports: How do we get a slice?
I’ve been talking to people who make money in sports betting and media, and this looks like the way it’s going to play out:
You can argue that Big Media has already been touching sports gambling in lots of different ways, from NFL pre-game shows that mention betting lines, to the March Madness brackets CBS and other companies produce, or the fantasy sports services run by ESPN, Yahoo, and others.
But none of those toe-touches into gambling offer the media companies a direct way to benefit from people directly wagering on sports. And when media companies have bumped against more traditional gambling in the past, they’ve been skittish about it. In 2015, for instance, Disney was set to invest in Draft Kings, a “daily fantasy” betting operation (that is now morphing into a real betting operation), but backed out.
But now we are talking — in theory — about big media companies actually running their own sports books. Who might that be? We can rule out AT&T’s WarnerMedia, per AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: Onstage at the NBA’s Tech Summit event in Charlotte, North Carolina, I asked him whether he’d be in the sports betting business directly and he responded with an emphatic, “No.” (But, per above, his company’s Bleacher Report is indeed going to be taking other gambling operations’ sports money.)
My uneducated hunch is that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox will be up for it, given that they’ve already been exposed to it via Murdoch’s operations in the UK and other territories where sports gambling has been legal for years. Any other guesses? Feel free to ping and I’ll follow up.
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