The Forbidden Line Between US Sports Betting & Sports Broadcasting Diminishes

  • Openly speaking about sports wagering on television & radio is no longer taboo
  • Recalling Brett Musburger & Al Michaels’s place in sports betting broadcasting lore
  • Three panels discuss next-step possibilities in the US for betting & broadcasting at BOSA

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Within the US wagering on sports is truly nothing new. What is relatively new is the opportunity to bet on it legally. That opportunity came when the US Supreme Court fatefully ruled on one monumental decision to legalize sports wagering on May 14, 2018, by reversing PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992).

That day not only began a billion-dollar industry allowing people in the US to legally wager on sports but also allowed the chance for people to speak about it freely on the radio and television.

But wait a minute. Isn’t free speech an anchor of the US constitution along with democracy? Not exactly when it came to speaking about gambling. For decades it has been taboo for broadcasters, sports hosts, and athletes to ever mention their opinions or reference odds for sporting events. Following two years after the reversal of PASPA, that unwritten law is finally changing and evolving.

The Past

In the past, the closest references bettors had to obtain information about sports wagering was listening in on handicapping infomercials from “professional handicappers”. They still exist today and in-fact given more opportunity to expand due to the growth of legalized gambling among US states. However, these programs are more church-like sermons filled with pressure messages to sell “guaranteed” win selections for tout services.

Besides viewing lines for games in newspapers, the only media reference might have been the occasional comment on the radio about who a sports talk show host favored on a local game. But rarely a prolonged discussion analyzing statistics, line movements, player injuries impacting the action, etc.

Keeping it Secret

Two national Hall of Fame broadcasters will be forever known for their reputation slyly referencing sports betting while not directly addressing the subject during prime-time games.

Brett Musburger from CBS Sports and ESPN, whose catchphrase “you are looking live” was also famous for his glib reference to sports gambling interspersed within broadcasts. For those of us who understood the code, it was like welcoming a member of a private club. He was not violating the unwritten law of never referencing gambling while clueing us in what was taking place. Or about what might take place gambling-wise next in the game.

The other titan of gambling broadcast lore is Al Michaels of NBC. Michaels is best known for his legendary tongue-in-cheek comments relating to “over/under” betting for totals wagering involving NFL football games.

Michaels, host of NBC Sunday Night Football often has the responsibility of keeping the viewer engaged during an entire broadcast lasting over three hours. Many games have a one-sided outcome that often is decided with less than five minutes left. Keenly understanding a high percentage of the audience remains for gambling purposes only, Michaels has made clever comments like “it’s not over yet, stay tuned” or “some of you are feeling under-whelmed right now”.

Today, Musburger has left CBS and ESPN and along with his son, Brian has created VSiN, the Vegas Stats & Information Network. He hosts “My Guys in the Desert,” a daily two-hour show on VSiN. He sits in a glass booth in the middle of the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, freely discussing sports gambling, interviewing bookmakers and gamblers to the enjoyment of a national SIRIUS radio audience.

Michaels still will occasionally make a funny comment or two on Sunday Night Football about point spread or game total but does not directly target the issue on a consistent basis.

Betting & Broadcasting a Hot Topic at BOSA

The BOSA (Betting on Sports America) Digital Conference taking place this week featured many panel discussions that either directly probed the topic of betting and broadcasting becoming co-existent in the US or included it within their conversation.

A feature panel had a group of CEOs from five well-known gaming companies including Rush Street Gaming, GAN, FOXBet, Bet.Works, BetMGM and Kambi. The subject of broadcasting now embracing sports wagering and the opportunities affecting the market was enthusiastic.

Kip Levin of FOXBet offered this comment:

The fact that you see pre-game shows now where betting is part of the pre-game analysis, I wouldn’t have guessed we’d be that far this quickly. I think the next phase of that will be more people will be watching live sports streaming, and so as the media landscape changes, that will open up really interesting innovation opportunities for people who want to watch. Imagine you’re streaming a live game in an app where you can see your bet wrapped around it and make decisions while you’re watching a game with everything in one place.

Another group discussion at BOSA was titled “Media Grab – New Brands in Gambling. With media brands of various sizes becoming sports betting operators, what is the vision behind this diversification? Could local broadcasters follow the lead of FOX and The Score? What about plans other major broadcasters have for sports betting?

A third segment was entitled “Content Rich – Betting & Broadcasting”. In that discussion, the subject probed direct deals that are now taking place between sports betting operators and media companies. Breaking down the final barrier and opening the door for things that were beyond forbidden years ago.

We now have television programming like The Daily Wager on ESPN that offers discussion on wagering with a co-op from William Hill scrolling and highlighting odds within the picture. One of the show’s reporter’s Doug Kerzirian was part of the BOSA subject panel.

The group debated the next step involving the opportunity for sports betting to be directly streamed and advertised within a game. That reality recently moved ahead this month when Bally’s Casinos inked a partnership with Sinclair Broadcasting in the Midwest

Kezirian remarked that the “deals make macro-sense regardless of the current conditions that casinos and US broadcasters find themselves in, in which all broadcasters have made tough adjustments”.

Predicting the Future

It is impossible to predict how far we may advance next in the US during 2021 involving the opportunity to weave broadcasting into sports wagering. There seem no laws to forbid it now besides a likely outcry that social responsibility and problem gambling groups will not allow it to go unlimited.

With dozens of DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel commercials appearing on television followed by increasing new TV shows directed toward the public’s love for sports wagering, who knows?

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: [email protected]