Forty-one days into his Illinois sports betting experiment, Steve Brubaker is concerned enough with his findings that he hopes regulators will investigate what he believes could be a “predatory” practice.
The Illinois lobbyist has placed a $1 bet each day on FanDuel’s pre-made single-game parlay and posted the results on Twitter. To date, only one of Brubaker’s 41 bets has cashed. He went 26 straight days before his one-and-only win.
He stressed his experiment is a small sample and his findings are neither scientific nor definitive. Still, he said his observations are concerning enough to warrant further study. Not to mention it highlights the need for Illinois responsible gambling measures.
“I think these things may be predatory,” Brubaker said. “If they’re really designed to [rarely] hit by the licensee then somebody should want to stop them from doing that. And that’s why I’m hopeful that some regulator will, because I know regulators that follow me [on Twitter]. I’m hopeful some regulator will say, ‘Hey, let’s take a look here and see what these things are.'”
FanDuel was offered the chance to comment on this story. The operator has officially declined to do so.
Brubaker’s Illinois sports betting experiment
The idea for the experiment came to Brubaker over Christmas while he was at his Florida home.
“I remember reading something from [FanDuel CEO] Amy Howe. She mentioned that 40% of their handle came from their homepage on the app. So I said, ‘Well, let’s go see what’s there,'” Brubaker said. “And the first thing that pops up — and if you’ve been to their site and seen it — three quarters of the entire page is the same-game parlay that they sell.”
Since sports betting is not legal in Florida, Brubaker waited until he returned to Illinois to start the test. He placed his first bet on Jan. 20. The proviso was that he would bet $1 on whatever pre-made SGP FanDuel offered when he first logged onto the app each day.
“I always bet what pops up. I don’t grade them,” he said. “Whenever they put it on my screen, I bet.”
Fully aware Illinois sportsbooks are in business to win more than lose
Brubaker stressed a few further points. He understands other Illinois sportsbooks also offer pre-made single-game parlays. FanDuel was selected for the test because they are “doing it at a higher frequency and better than anybody else.”
He said he thinks the entire practice should be investigated, regardless of the operator. His main issue is the sportsbooks crafting the SGPs.
“Basically I believe that if regulators actually studied parlays and SGPs created by bettors and compared them to SGPs created by FanDuel, there would be a noticeable disparity in win-loss,” Brubaker said
Also, though he said he isn’t a regular sports bettor, as a lobbyist that deals predominantly with gambling law issues, Brubaker does understand how the industry works.
“If they have the thumb on the scale, they shouldn’t be allowed to offer that product,” he said. “I don’t accuse them of doing this. It just looks like this could be happening.
“Of course, they’re in business to win more than they lose. That is gambling and everybody knows that. But if they’re being unfair about it, then they shouldn’t be allowed to do it. Now, if it’s just me going out there and playing a stupid SGP and I get beat, that’s on me.”
Buyer beware that these bets often change
Further, Brubaker said he is concerned that FanDuel tries to entice people to bet their pre-made SGPs by showing how many people have placed a bet that sometimes changes.
“When I go to bet, the first thing that pops up when I bet my dollar, in the upper right hand or left hand corner of those, there’s always how many people have placed the bet and a little fire [graphic] and it’s in orange,” Brubaker said. “I think that’s an enticement to make people comfortable. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve noticed if they change the dynamics of the [bet], if they move [a player’s] points to a different level or change a player [in the parlay], the number of people that made the bet never changes.”
Brubaker said if elements of the bet change, then the counter showing how many people placed it should reset.
“It’s a different bet. So they can’t say that 6,721 people placed [the same] bet as mine, then modify it and keep the number. That’s a problem,” Brubaker said.
Brubaker documented Wednesday’s bet as follows:
“I think they make them to look good so people bet them. That’s my hypothesis for this whole test,” Brubaker said.
Odds appear better than scratch-off lottery tickets, but are they?
Brubaker said he’s curious whether the probability of winning these bets is no different than winning with scratch-off lottery tickets. It’s the reason he said he plans to bet the pre-made same-game parlays for 50 consecutive days and then buy 50 scratch-off lottery tickets and see how frequently he wins — if he wins.
“More than half of [the SGP], or right at half of them, are under 10-1. That’s not great, but you would think I would hit at 3-something or 4-something or 5-1 and I haven’t. Then, as you know if you’ve followed this ridiculous story, I decided, ‘These are more like lottery tickets or scratchers than a true sports bet that people should actually try.’ So then I added that on. I thought, ‘I’ll go 50 days on the pre-made SGPs and then at the end I’ll do 50 scratchers… and post that information and the comparison.'”
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, told PlayIllinois the fact this is sports betting may lead bettors to believe they have more of an edge than they do.
“I think most sports bettors believe they go into a bet with at least some information,” Whyte said. “Some feel like they’re making kind of an informed choice. And I think when a book pushes these parlays with much higher holds — and as Steve is finding out, many of the ones that seem to have been constructed by the books themselves are dogs — it dramatizes the fact that the book has so much more information at their disposal than than the bettor does when it comes to counting the odds and creating these exotic bets.”
NCPG: these parlays could be a issue for problem gamblers
Whyte said that calculating the true odds of these single-game parlays may be one of the problems here.
“One of the core tenets of our informed player choice strategy is that players should know the odds. I think with single-game parlays the challenge is that it’s very difficult for most people to calculate and understand the odds… to make an informed choice,” Whyte said.
Whyte said for the recreational bettor placing a small bet hoping for a bigger payout, the SGPs appear less problematic.
“When you start looking at these long odds, fantastic jackpot payouts, there’s an element that may even be more likely to appeal to a purely recreational bettor. You know, someone for which it is just a dollar and a dream,” he said.
The issue is a more serious one for those with a problem.
“When the problem comes in is when you have either people that are desperate because they’ve lost a lot, and they’re now chasing a big win, or people that believe that because sports are games of skill, they believe they’ve got so much information that even astronomically long odds are within their grasp,” Whyte said.
Signs you may have a gambling problem
Whyte said gamblers should always consider signs that they may have a problem. Some questions bettors should ask themselves include:
- Are you betting for fun or are you betting because you have to?
- Can you afford to lose the money you are betting or are you betting money that you need to pay the bills?
- Are you betting because you’re depressed or are you betting because you’re having a good time?
“Products like [single-game parlays] have some different structural characteristics that may make them appeal to certain bettors or are more advantageous to people,” Whyte said. “But, in general, it comes down to why the person is betting. Someone who is betting because they’re depressed, obviously, is going to have a lot of trouble with something like a single-game parlay.”
Where in Illinois you can get help for problem gambling
The NCPG lists a number of places in Illinois where you can get help for problem gambling, including:
National Problem Gambling Helpline
Illinois Council on Problem Gambling
Self help resources
• Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org)
Is fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem.
• Gam-Anon (www.gam-anon.org)
Is a self-help organization for the spouse, family or close friends of compulsive gamblers.
• GamTalk (www.gamtalk.org)
Is a 24/7 moderated online peer support forum.