The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t open the door for Las Vegas-style sports betting in any state that desires it until a ruling in May 2018.
But PGA Tour executive Norb Gambuzza told a virtual audience at the Sports Betting USA event on Thursday that the tour got started on how to handle a “new era” well before then.
The court, which accepts fewer than 1% of all appeals, agreed to take the case in June 2017, meaning that at least four judges wanted to review it. And in a December 2017 oral argument, pointed remarks from a number of justices further hinted at a change afoot in likely voiding the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.
For a small number of people who followed the saga closely, the eventual ruling was almost anti-climactic.
“When it became evident that the wheels on PASPA were wobbling, the first thing we did is build an integrity program,” said Gambuzza, senior vice president for media business development for the Tour.
The challenge for Tour officials is that while many professional athletes such as ex-New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer knew little to nothing about sports betting, virtually every professional golfer has grown up placing informal wagers on themselves against others in their foursomes.
Gambuzza told the audience and moderator Joe Favorito, a sports media consultant and professor at Columbia University, that while those players know they can’t place a formal bet on the sport, there is “more nuance” than that.
The fine line for Tour players during TV interviews
“We have all these sports betting media partners who want players to participate in a panel to talk about ‘who’s going to win, who’s going to go low, who plays well in the rain or the wind,’” Gambuzza said.
“We have to make sure those guys understand that you can talk about that to a certain extent,” Gambuzza said. “But if you start talking about who’s injured — ‘Oh, I saw him hobbling on the range’ — that’s nuance where the only way to really attack that is frequent and direct communication.”
Gambuzza said he added oversight of the Tour’s gambling platform to his duties in January, with the Tour’s board granting him more responsibility on that front in June.
As with the pro sports leagues, Gambuzza said there has been a balancing act between “pushing [betting] content in front of all of our fans, yet making it available for those who wish to engage. It’s more art than science, I think.”
The PGA Tour has partnerships with DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, and BetMGM, and Gambuzza said that after initially “getting our toes wet without really jumping in,” the Tour now is at the point of “pushing” those brands to highlight betting opportunities on golf.
The revolution already has begun
Gambuzza mentioned last month’s CJ Cup tournament in Las Vegas, when Golf Channel pushed the envelope with numerous on-screen betting references that even included two announcers offering their recommendations on proposed $100 bets.
Beyond just live odds on the possible winner, there were graphics on more esoteric wagers such as “low South Korean scorer” or “birdie, par, or bogey” for a certain player at a certain hole. As it happened, Jason Kokrak, who earned his first Tour title that week, wears a BetMGM logo at the center of his golf hat.
“We see what our friends on Golf Channel are doing, as the lawyers begin to loosen the strings a little bit,” Gambuzza said.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February, traditionally the most raucous spectator event on the Tour, may feature more televised gambling innovations, Gambuzza added.
While IMG inked a deal with the Tour in 2018 to allow for the distribution of TOUR’s official scoring data to betting operators within North America, implementation has proven complicated.
But Gambuzza said that “we are just about ready to go” with enabling gamblers “to bet on every single golf shot by every player at our events.”
Yahoo wades in with sports betting
Ishwara Glassman Chrein, who manages sports partnerships at Verizon Media/Yahoo Sports, told the same Sports Betting USA audience that the companies signed new sports betting deals with the NBA and NHL in part because research showed that “about 50 percent” of Yahoo’s daily fantasy sports players showed an interest in sports betting as well.
Like Gambuzza, Chrein said that pleasing gamblers and non-gamblers alike is a challenge.
“I think increasingly you will see customization of content, so that people will get what they want,” Chrein said. “We don’t think of hardcore bettors as being on Yahoo — that’s not our target audience.”
The growing dominance of mobile devices is tricky, Chrein added, because “with the size of that screen, there is only so much space” for secondary data such as gambling lines.
What’s next at Yahoo? Chrein said that when the NBA resumes play — currently scheduled for Dec. 22 — Yahoo plans to test an offer where visitors who wager on the company’s BetMGM platform could then view that game via NBA LeaguePass while at the Yahoo site.