Recently, Bob Dancer posted a blog that briefly reviews US Fantasy, which is a pari-mutuel based fantasy sports product currently being offered in Nevada. Bob Dancer touches on two major areas where US Fantasy should improve. First, there is no app and no ability for bettors to place wagers online. This is a major drawback for players. Much of the growth of sports book handle over the past few years is due to the increased access that players have by using mobile apps. But this is also a fairly straight forward downside to overcome. It just takes some commitment of time and resources by US Fantasy.
The second area where Bob Dancer thinks US Fantasy can improve is in the basic structure of the games. He notes because US Fantasy uses a pari-mutuel format, there is no reason to bet early. It is in the player’s best interest to wait as long as possible to place bets. Waiting longer gives the player two major bits of info. By betting late, the player gets to see more of the pool structure. The better can see the latest wagering odds. By betting late, the player also gets to use the latest information on the event. This could come in the form of scratches, lineup changes, weather, etc, that can impact the outcome of the event.
I think Bob Dancer makes two good points and his comments got me thinking more about how the pari-mutuel DFS model and pool wagering in general can be improved, especially with new technologies that are available.
Essentially, a pari-mutuel pool works by awarding a pool of wagers to the bettors who bet on the wining outcome. Odds are determined by the amount bet on each outcome and payoffs are determined the same way. Typically, operators charge a fixed rake for running the pool. I describe pari-mutuel pools in more detail in a previous post. For example, consider a football game. There are two teams, team x and team y. $4 is bet on team x, and $6 is bet on team y. The implied odds of team x is 4/10 = 40% or 2.50 decimal odds. The implied odds of team y is 6/10 = 60% or 1.66 decimal odds. If team x wins, then the $10 pool will get distributed proportionately to everyone who bet on team x and visa versa for team y.
Pari-mutuel pools are typically used for horse racing. This betting format takes away all the risk from the pool operator since a fixed rake is charged on the overall pool and the odds are set by the pool itself. It works well for obscure events where the outcome is difficult to handicap. The pari-mutuel betting format is not so great for bettors who have access to fixed odds alternatives. Pari-mutuel pool bettors don’t know the payoff/odds they receive until after the pool has closed. This makes it a little riskier for them and discourages them from betting early. The format can be gamed by sharps who can handicap the pool odds or who have access to an alternative pool or fixed price book.
For the reasons outlined above, pari-mutuel pools have not caught on with many sports bettors. Most sports bettors prefer to use bookies where they can receive fixed price odds. And since there are so many alternative bookies available today, especially online, a liquid secondary market exists on so many sporting events, bettors can know for sure whether they are getting a good price or not.
So how can we use new technologies to improve pari-mutuel pools? Specifically, is there a way to level the playing field between sharps and squares to generate overall greater liquidity while also taking advantage of the beneficial aspects of betting pools?
According to Bob Dancer, there is a benefit to betting as late as possible in a pari-mutuel pool. Sharp bettors will wait till the last possible second to place their bets. They will scan alternative markets to determine the best odds for a particular outcome and calculate what the impact on the pool will be at a certain amount of wagering. Sharp bettors will find opportunities where a certain outcome is cheap in the pool and will place enough money in the pool for that outcome to gain an advantage. Square bettors are disadvantaged because they might not be able to spend the same time handicapping events and placing their bets at specific times.
I propose a system that will level the playing field between sharps and squares that will also grow the overall pool. I call the system a “dynamic rake”. A dynamic rake will provide inducements to both sharps and squares which will level the playing field between both types of bettors while at the same time increasing the total amount wagered.
A dynamically raked pool will still have a fixed rake like any other pari-mutuel pool. What changes is the way players are rewarded for their bets and the information provided to participants. A dynamically raked pool will reward early bettors with more player’s club/cashback/credits. The earlier a bet is made, the more points it will receive. If a pool has a 10% rake, players who bet early might get a 20% bonus on their bets. This bonus will induce bettors to bet earlier. The points that are awarded can be determined by an algorithm and tweaked to suit the particular market. The pool operator’s experience will help them tweak the formula to an optimal amount so that the advantage between early betting and late betting is decreased or eliminated. The points could be awarded based on time, but also based on the amount that has been bet in the pool. The operator could determine the amount of points to award based on the amount the pool has received in wagers to certain limits. Once thresholds are met, the operator would be indifferent to inducing any more early bets as the minimum amounts will have been met.
In addition to awarding points based on time or amount in the pool, the pari-mutuel pool can also give pool participants more information concurrently. This will further induce sharp bettors. The pool operator could make it known the amounts bet on each outcome. This will help bettors determine how much certain wagers will impact the pool odds. The operators could also give betters an API that they could use to automatically place wagers. This will help sharps bet at the very last minute with the most up to date information.
What I believe a dynamic rake pool will accomplish by inducing early betting and helping sharp bettors, is increase the pool handle and increase the efficiency of the pool. This will enable the operator to make a higher overall rake and also make the odds closer to their optimal level.
Why aren’t dynamic rake methods used more commonly? I believe there are three reasons. First, regulations prevent pool operators from getting too creative. Most jurisdictions around the world put too many restrictions on wagering, and so stifle competition and innovation. Second, the growth of fixed price and betting exchanges has turned the industry’s attention away from pari-mutuel wagering. There is lot’s more growth left in legal sports betting, exchange betting, and DFS formats. Pari-mutuel pools are seen by the industry as an old horse racing format. Third many sports books, DFS operators, and betting exchanges have not become very sophisticated in their player rating systems. There is lot’s of room to grow in the way players are rated and rewarded but because the overall pie is still growing, more resources is being put into marketing and new player acquisition than into player retention.