Opinion: Sports betting is much more than point spreads

When gambling is discussed in Mississippi, it tends to focus on casinos or lotteries, which are the two most obvious avenues for betting. But a story on ESPN’s website says sports betting, especially on professional football, is rapidly adding options to compete for dollars.

Until recently, most players bet exclusively on teams. If they bet on a favorite team, they win if the team exceeds the point spread, ie the number of points by which a bettor thinks they will win the game. If they bet on an underdog, they win if their team keeps the score closer than expected or wins outright.

ESPN, however, reports the point spread is seven decades as “America’s favorite way to bet football seems numbered.” To some extent, the popularity of fantasy football, which focuses on specific players rather than entire teams, is the reason for this.

“Young bettors, many of whom have gotten their chance in everyday fantasy sports, gravitate to player props – bets based on individual player performance – rather than traditional offers like point spread, over/total lower or the silver line,” ESPN reported. “Soon, more money is expected to go to Tom Brady’s number of passes, for example, than to the final score.”

A sportsbook called PointsBet says that when it first entered the US market, 80% of the bets it took were on team results like the points spread. But so-called player paraphernalia has caught up quickly, and PointsBet predicts that its business will soon be split 50-50 between team bets and player bets.

Player bets are usually on things like passing, receiving or rushing yards, or whether a specific player will score a touchdown. In fact, PointsBet said their customers bet more money on Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp scoring a touchdown in this year’s Super Bowl than on the game’s point spread. (It was an easy bet – Kupp scored.)

Traditional team bets like the point spread are still dominant in sports betting in Las Vegas and across the country, ESPN reported. But it’s easy to see how competition from online platforms that allow a fan to bet on their smartphone in front of their TV will change the game.

Despite Cooper Kupp’s touchdowns, it’s hard to see how the average fan wins betting on sports. An injury, a bad call or an unlucky rebound can sink a bet. But if ESPN is right, sports betting is about to get a whole lot more creative in how the book makes money.

—Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal