Today’s guest columnist is Johnny Aitken, CEO of PointsBet USA.
After coming off the high of the 86th Masters, marked by the triumphant return of Tiger Woods to Augusta National—and followed by the dramatic finish at the PGA Championship—the sports betting industry is ready to channel that same energy at the U.S. Open. Emerging star Scottie Scheffler will likely shine this week in Brookline, Massachusetts—a state that’s looking to open the doors to sports betting, providing a perfect backdrop to establish sports wagering as a mainstream fixture within the golf community.
Since the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018, sports betting has boomed in the United States. A report by the American Gaming Association (AGA) found that in 2021 sports betting generated $53 billion in total monies wagered. And while wagering on sports continues to surge in popularity as new legal markets open up, golf remains a small percentage of overall betting.
At PointsBet, wagering on golf has grown over 10 times since our entrance into the U.S. market, but it still only accounts for about 5% of all bets—with NFL, NBA, college football and college basketball taking the top spots.
The key to closing the golf wagering gap and elevating golf as a top betting sport is live, in-play betting and its potential to draw in a new generation of smartphone-wielding sports bettors. Historically in advanced markets such as Australia and Europe, data has shown the propensity to watch an event increasing up to five times if they’ve had a wager on it.
Going beyond the traditional bet types, such as outright tournament winner, is key to this. We’re able to create propositions where bettors can engage with the sport throughout the event, at different moments, and have bets resulted within minutes as opposed to waiting out the four days of a tournament. If a fan were to log into their PointsBet account throughout the U.S. Open, they would have the ability to bet on approximately 500 live markets and counting.
To put it into perspective, rather than betting exclusively on Cameron Smith to win the U.S. Open, a fan can bet his total round score over/under, individual hole performance such as “birdie or better,” and head-to-head matchups for the round versus other players. Over the coming years, we see this extending to longest drive, nearest the pin, and even whether the individual will sink a putt. Creating these lightning betting opportunities can make golf a top-tier betting sport, in line with how soccer and tennis have been revolutionized by live, in-play micro markets.
Not only is in-play betting ushering in a new viewing experience for fans but it is also increasing fan engagement and interaction—and creating heightened levels of excitement throughout each tournament. Measuring the performance of the 2022 Masters compared with the 2020 Masters, PointsBet has witnessed a 166% growth of in-play handle, showing the vast potential of these markets.
And while in-play betting will certainly move the needle within the golf community, partnerships are what will bring it all together. As an Official Betting Operator of the PGA Tour, PointsBet licenses official, live scoring data, which fuels our ability to offer a comprehensive array of pre-match and in-play betting options.
Partnerships are also crucial in the industry’s efforts to educate the masses on betting. Our partnership with NBC Sports grants us direct access to the golf community via odds integrations on the Golf Channel, direct communication with their talent, and an on-air presence for our spokespeople. Adding to the storytelling of key moments in golf with odds integrations isn’t anything new; for instance the make-putt percentages shown for decades are a version of odds, i.e. a 25% chance to make a putt is the same as odds of +300 or 3/1.
The reality is that golf is rife with opportunities for sports betting broadcasts aimed at informing fans’ betting possibilities and giving them an elevated reason to tune in and extend their time watching a golf tournament.
We’ve seen firsthand the value sports betting telecasts offer fans, broadcasters, and our industry through what we refer to as BetCasts. Looking back at the NBA-focused BetCasts we hosted earlier this year, the trading figures prove the efficacy of these types of activations. On average, the 2022 Chicago Bulls BetCasts we presented along with NBC Sports Chicago delivered 107% more in-play unique bettors and 81% more in-play total bets.
Players, viewers and fans are passionate devotees to the game, and high viewership numbers for golf present fertile ground to experiment with betting-centric alternate telecasts and alternate-odds broadcasts. But to put words into action, there must be support from the major championships to bring the concept to life.
While the roots of betting on golf can be traced to the founding of the game in the Scottish countryside, right now, sportsbooks and tour organizers are just skimming the surface of what’s possible. If mapped out correctly, golf can carve the path toward becoming one of the top sports to bet on—and this week at the U.S. Open we’ll get a glimpse of that.
Aitken has led U.S. operations as CEO since 2018 of PointsBet, the Official Sports Betting partner of NBC Sports and an Official Betting Operator of the PGA Tour.