The wider spread legalization of sports betting in the United States has generally been great for domestic and international sportsbooks. Even though some are paying a king's ransom in taxes, not to mention a ton of money in initial licensing fees, the U.S.'s interest in sports gambling has never been higher. And yet, as legalized sports betting becomes more of a staple across the board, bookmakers are grappling with a new reality they still haven't entirely figured out.
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Hiccups were inevitable as more places in the United States legalized sports betting. The local governments themselves have experienced them, particularly in Illinois. Aside from reconciling licensing hurdles, though, sportsbooks have been subject to a relatively smooth process.
How The NFL Has Forced Sportsbooks To Adapt?
This new obstacle for sportsbooks is a wrinkle driven by many factors. Chief among motivating forces, though, are the news cycle and the push to provide more betting options in a fast-paced environment.
The latter is most salient. Sportsbooks have never offered more wagering options. Gone are the days where regular-season games were met strictly with moneylines, the over/under, and the spread. For the NFL specifically, there are props for nearly every single contest, no matter how low profile or potentially inconsequential. Some sportsbooks even release preseason props for crying out loud.
Betting-line expansion initially didn't spill over to the futures department. Sportsbooks offered odds on win totals, division winners, conference victors, and championship picks, but not much else. Over the past few years, however, it has become trendy to combine the idea of prop betting with the futures market.
Let's use Julio Jones as an example. Before he was traded from the Atlanta Falcons to the Tennessee Titans, there were odds on which team he would land with. Had you bet the Titans, you were likely treated to a 3-to-1 return...at least.
But here's the thing about these types of future lines: They are beyond turbulent. News of a player's status with his current team can change on a whim. He could be pulled off the trade market, be sent to a dark horse squad, not on the props list or rumors on a specific destination could go from long-shot to favorite overnight.
Sportsbooks are now tasked with reacting to this any-moment news cycle while also servicing their customers. And as they are finding out, that's not an easy job.
The Aaron Rodgers Conundrum
More recently, this specific type of betting market has focused on superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his future with the Green Bay Packers. The odds most bet on are along the lines of "Which team will Rodgers be on to start the 2021 season?"
Bettors can then invest in particular destinations. One of the more played props was the more straight-up wager: Would Rodgers start the 2021 season on the Packers? In this case, you were betting solely on whether he'd be in Green Bay or literally anywhere else. Your potential return on predicting a departure was pretty lucrative. Odds rose as high as five-to-one at certain points of the offseason.
Lately, though, there was some chatter that Rodgers might retire. Sportsbooks at first dismissed the rumblings. Rodgers is, after all, an MVP-caliber player. Why would he retire?
But then he was asked about it. And he didn't deny it. Sportsbooks were compelled to act. They adjusted the returns on the non-Packers odds because of both the rumors and all the action coming in.
It got so bad that certain sportsbooks actually pulled the Rodgers futures all together. And they didn't stop there. They pulled other lines that would be impacted by his retirement or departure, like Green Bay's win total. This has all brought up the question of how the news cycle for sports at large will impact betting lines—and the moral dilemma of what happens when sportsbooks and teams are partnered together.
A Problem That Will Only Get Tougher
The Rodgers example is actually a more manageable instance of this increasingly tenuous dynamic. The rumor that forced all the adjustments was so outlandish, no individual sportsbook was impacted more than the other. But that won't always be the case.
Consider what Mike Florio from NBC Sports wrote on the matter:
"Soon enough, we’ll all know whether the sportsbooks were being overly careful or overly smart. Regardless, these actions and reactions from bookmakers will now become a new source of NFL news. And, as one league source observed over the weekend, things could get very awkward if a sports book’s removal of a bet causes a major issue for a team — and if that specific sportsbook also sponsors that team."
Question for the Sportsbooks
This is where things get mega dicey." How will a sportsbook that's sponsoring a team to react if that team withholds injury news on a player that impacts the outcome of a game, season, futures bet, etc.?
In this case, if the Packers were partnered with a sportsbook (they're not), would they have been obligated to tell them about the Rodgers situation? And would that be fair to other sportsbooks not sponsoring the Packers?
For sportsbooks operating in the dark, their only reaction to potential groundbreaking news is to rip any betting lines that may be compromised by it from their ledger. That's a big deal. It leaves a ton of potential money on the table for them.
Think of how many bets on Rodgers' future and the Packers' win total various sportsbooks missed out on because they yanked those lines, or how they might've adjusted their odds on him returning to Green Bay. This is a logistical headache that will only persist. And it's going to be a weekly thing.
Injuries to key players impact moneylines, spreads and over/unders, not to mention certain props and, depending on the severity of the injury, long-term futures. It's easy to imagine the last few weeks of the NFL season being a nightmare because so many teams traditionally rest starters.
There is likely no cure-all for how this will be handled. It will be a feeling-out process for sportsbooks, bettors, and even teams. The easiest solution seems to be mandating that teams be as transparent as possible with breaking news.
Alas, this is what everyone signed up for when pushing to legalize sports betting. Issues of morality and competitive balance abound, and they're not going away. Most would say the awkwardness is a small price to pay, and it might be.
But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a commitment to remedying how the relationship between sportsbooks and sports teams function.
Check out this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use for all your NFL betting: