Marketing Madness

In my last column I discussed key numbers with regards to the NBA. I had planned on following that up with a similar discussion regarding college basketball but have changed my mind for a couple of reasons. First, the data is far more difficult to amass and far less likely to mean anything. If Arizona (25-2) played Tennessee St. (1-24), the spread would be in the neighborhood of 40-points (that is if any book actually posted a line). Would the results of such a game even merit inclusion when it comes to calculating key numbers? The NBA has far more parity than college basketball (as does the NFL compared to college football and that is why we charge a key number premium for buying on 3 in the NFL but not in college football and is why some books do not allow teasers on NFL any more) so discussing the probabilities for the final margin of victory are far more relevant in the pros.

The second thing that got in the way was a series of interviews/calls/emails to me from some major media outlets with regards to some props that we offered or are offering. Getting mainstream media coverage is always a bonus for us (and, in my personal opinion, good for the industry as a whole), especially as we cannot always advertise at the same outlets that are carrying these stories. I found getting good press from places we couldn’t advertise ironic and interesting enough to warrant discussion as a Frontlines topic.

First, let me provide a little background. One of the gaming rules in Nevada states that sportsbooks can only take wagers on events settled on the field of play. This means that books on the Strip cannot take bets on elections, academy awards, TV shows such as Survivor, the Heisman Trophy or any other such event where the winner is determined by a vote and/or ahead of time. I am sure this law is the result of some fraud perpetrated many years ago but I don’t know of any such stories. If anybody does know the background, I would love to hear about it.

Despite the laws however, leading and/or innovative casinos such as the Stardust have offered such odds for entertainment purposes only for years. Why do they do this? The answer is simple. Even though they couldn’t take bets on it, their odds were frequently picked up by media outlets looking to spice up their stories and the name of the casino would naturally be included. Having the name of your casino in front of thousands or even millions of readers or viewers is always good for business.

Flash forward to the recent past where offshore books, not bound by Nevada gaming rules, started taking bets on these novelty props. Now, instead of trying to compete with Vegas books for media attention for their lines on football, basketball, baseball and hockey, offshore books had an opportunity to gain media attention without Nevada competition and they have been using that advantage ever since. Simon Noble (formerly head of Intertops and now running WWTS) has been a real pioneer in this space. His books have frequently had their odds for entertainment props (Academy Awards, Razzies, Emmys, box office handle, etc.) listed in major papers. His efforts have probably produced great results for not only his books, but for the offshore industry as a whole. Think about it, every time a reader/viewer sees an offshore book mentioned in print or on the news the industry gains a little more credibility. Olympic sportsbook is another pioneer when it comes to sports props. They have set the standard with dozens, and even hundreds, of team and player props every day (Michael Jordan over/under 22.5 points, etc.).

One of the best reporters to cover this business, Buzz Daly, once suggested that offshore books should get together and advertise on behalf of the entire industry to promote awareness that there is an option to Las Vegas and corner bookies. Although a good idea, this hasn’t happened yet and isn’t likely to soon (for a few reasons), so these novelty props getting mainstream press is the next best thing. Of course, the books getting mentioned get an extra boost.

Another factor that makes these props so important is that many of the media outlets that use these props for their stories would not let an offshore book advertise with them. This is not the fault of any individual reporter; it is simply a by-product of the large communication companies trying to stay in the good books of the very leagues they are covering. ABC had the rights to this year’s Super Bowl but was unable to broadcast a commercial for Las Vegas at the request of the NFL. If the NFL will not allow ABC to air a commercial for Las Vegas, you can be pretty sure how they would feel if ABC accepted ads from an offshore book. Yet, at the same time ABC’s Monday Night Football and ESPN football broadcasts frequently make allusions or direct references to gambling lines and results. I imagine if the networks had their way, they would love to offer more gambling related materials as bettors make for very loyal fans. When a Monday Night game is 37-0 in the fourth quarter, most viewers have switched to other programming but you can bet (slight pun intended) the guy who has Over 40.5 is still watching intently.

Whatever the reasons, it is fact that there are many places offshore books cannot advertise but this does not stop these outlets from citing offshore lines. Here are just a couple of examples from our book in recent weeks:

  • First, we posted odds on which shoe company high school phenom LeBron James would sign with. Word of the prop spread very quickly and just a few days later it is being discussed on sportstalk radio shows from coast-to-coast and even ESPN’s Sportscenter. Click here to read Bodog’s press release.
  • Then just a couple of week’s later our prop on Pete Rose’s possible reinstatement was getting similar radio coverage and was picked up in a few newspapers. Click here to read The Cincinnati Post article. Click here to read Bodog’s press release.

I could go on. We had odds up on the possibility of a Jones/Tyson fight and within hours I was discussing it on a radio show in Las Vegas. How will Annika Sorenstam fare when she takes on the PGA? Oscars. Survivor. Next up will be NFL draft props or maybe AAA Baseball futures. You get the idea. Do we do these because they get media attention? Partly. Mostly though we offer these props because we can. When a player bets on an odd prop such as Pete Rose’s reinstatement, he/she is more likely to talk about it with friends then the bet they lost on Gonzaga last night. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising for any book.

The successes experienced by Mr. Noble’s books and others such as us have spawned similar efforts by other books with even more bizarre bets. Some of these are beyond our tastes as they involve the chances of war, death, terrorism, etc. Any bet that somebody has to die for a bettor to win we won’t touch. But others will and so will the media. However, we are now in the media’s consciousness enough that we get asked about props even when we don’t offer them! Click here to read the ABC article.

Books also have to be careful with these type of odds as the winners can be known ahead of time, especially with the reality TV shows that have become very popular recently. That is why the limits are kept very low.

In conclusion, as long as Vegas cannot offer these types of bets, I expect that offshore books will continue to expand their offerings in these arenas. Especially if it gets them mentioned on Sportscenter every once in a while.

The enjoyment of your wagering experience with us is my number one priority. Should you have any questions, concerns, or comments, I will personally ensure you are satisfied with your Bodog experience.

Good luck with your wagers!

I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino