First Lesson From NJ Sports Betting: Customers Want To Bet Legally


This is Part 1 in a five-part series on early lessons from US sports betting markets.

Legal sports betting has taken New Jersey and the US by storm.

The strong early returns in newly legalized markets and the prospect of expansion in 2019 have the gaming industry abuzz.

Unfortunately, that buzz is leading to some hurried decisions and less-than-perfect legislation. Even though we’re only a few months and a handful of states into this brave new legal sports betting world, there are already valuable lessons to be learned.

In this five-part series, Play NJ will explore five such lessons:

  1. Customers prefer legal markets.
  2. The black market thrives on the legal market’s mistakes.
  3. Online sports betting isn’t the future, it’s the present.
  4. Sports betting is going to be a high variance market.
  5. Don’t discount the power of a sports-associated brand.

Up first, the not-so-well-understood preference for legal markets.

People want to bet in legal markets

The fledgling NJ sports betting market has already dealt with its fair share of criticism.

From the inevitable growing pains of a new market to complaints about high vig and the belief that they ban winning players, the sports betting community hasn’t been overly kind to the state’s operators.

However, the criticisms haven’t escaped the echo chamber that is Sports Betting Twitter. Actual bettors seem undeterred by the saber-rattling, considering New Jersey’s sports betting industry is firing on all cylinders, tallying nearly $24 million in September.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise.

A Nielsen Sports poll commissioned by the American Gaming Association earlier this year indicated 71 percent of people who currently bet in the black market would move some or all of their activities to the legal market.

The legal sports betting advantage

Sharps and Sports Betting Twitter would like you to believe that better pricing is what will determine where people bet, but that’s simply not the case. And professional bettors are having a hard time wrapping their head around why.

Getting a good price is nice, but it’s far from the only factor a customer considers.

These tweets are common in the sports betting universe. Why would you pay more when you can pay less?

Actually, it’s really not that difficult.

People will pay up if they believe they’re getting something of value in return, and gambling legally has a lot of value over gambling illegally.

Like purchasing protection plans that experts tell you aren’t worth it, betting in a legal market provides a certain peace of mind for that additional cost:

  • My money is safe.
  • My personal information is safe.
  • I have a recourse (state regulators) if I feel I’ve been treated unfairly.
  • I’m confident I’m not violating laws or contributing to a criminal enterprise.

And that’s on top of having brand familiarity and certain conveniences provided by a legal sportsbook.

Bottom line: Most customers will gravitate toward legal betting options, unless, as I’ll explain in Part 2 of this series, you give them reasons beyond pricing to stick with black market operators.

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Steve Ruddock


Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.