As Tennessee sports betting launches today, it brings with it a new problem for operators: how to ensure a 10% minimum hold.
To recap, Tennessee sports betting companies must hold at least 10% of all betting handle they take. If they don’t hit that mark at the end of each calendar year, they face fines of up to $25,000.
The rule does not affect 2020 activity.
The Tennessee Education Lottery, which oversees all sports betting in TN, also has powers to “impose additional recourse” for non-compliance.
Are bonuses included in TN sports betting rule?
One important clarification worth noting about the unusual rule: TN said the minimum hold is calculated on:
“revenues minus aggregate annual payout to bettors.”
However, TN does not define what “aggregate annual payout” is, and crucially whether it includes bonus money. The wider sports betting rules appear to define revenue as “adjusted gross income”.
Subsequently, Tennessee regulations state that bonuses are not considered when determining adjusted gross income.
In short, it seems operators can bonus away without affecting their hold rate.
How can operators hit the minimum hold rate?
In a vacuum, an operator would need to offer standard 50-50 markets at -125 in order to expect a hold of 10%.
But TN sportsbooks still have to compete with rival operators, the black market, and neighboring states. That means they will want to keep main markets like sides and totals at -110, the industry standard.
Instead, look for vig on in-play wagers to go up. Customers are unlikely to be comparing odds mid-game, so may be less price sensitive.
Books will also be keen to push futures, which have a naturally higher hold rate, in part because it’s harder to see the vig in multiple outcome markets.
TN sports betting operators likely will push parlays onto customers, perhaps linking bonuses to them rather than straight bets.
Could this lead to limiting?
There’s also a chance books will be less willing to take any action at all that looks ‘sharp.’
In other states, books might be willing to take on customers that break even or lose at a low single-digit percentage.
But in Tennessee, that kind of player is going to hurt your hold rate. It could feasibly lead to that bettors being limited or booted quicker than elsewhere.
Not all bad news for TN sports bettors
It’s far too soon to call the TN sports betting market a problem for players, though.
Consider UK operator Sky Bet, which posted a hold rate of 14.7% in H1 2020, even after accounting for bonuses.
That was higher than usual and driven in part by people betting on sports they knew less about during coronavirus-affected lockdowns. But it also reflected a recreational client base that bet lots of parlays.
How to translate to Tennessee sports betting market
In a US context then, its relatively easy to get to 10% hold if a few heavy favorites lose in a given NFL betting weekend.
But that kind of customer base can also be a double-edged sword. You also can get a month like September when the NFL favorites deliver, and operators lose big.
And then, it’s a long way back to a 10% hold.
Does that leave wiggle room?
If sportsbooks simply can’t get there, what then? Operators can “petition for relief” and try to show their sub-10% hold rate was due to “circumstances beyond their control.”
Of course, a smart lawyer could probably argue that all sports results are beyond an operator’s control, so it will be interesting to see what sort of latitude the Tennessee Lottery grants.
Lloyd Danzig of Sharp Alpha Advisors also proposes a hybrid model could be in play.
“Operators may offer more favorable pricing at launch and then progressively worse odds as time goes on,” Danzig said.
Either way, this level of customization is undoubtedly easier when you own your technology.
“This sort of case is a clear advantage for being vertically integrated,” said Ed Miller, chief architect at in-play feed provider DeckPrism. “You have a lot more flexibility as an operator to optimize around rules like this if you control your stack top to bottom.”
Not all doom and gloom
Taken together, it seems Tennessee sports bettors might not get totally screwed by the minimum hold. Main market pricing could be relatively unchanged, as operators wait and see how sporting results play out.
Of the first four operators licensed in TN, only one offered any comment on their plans when contacted by LSR.
“It’s more of a next year question,” said FanDuel spokesman Kevin Hennessy. “We will happily comply with the 10% hold regulations and continue to innovate to enhance the customer experience.”
The relative lack of information was telling to some however.
“I don’t know if operators have a solution,” said Joe Brennan, CEO of SportAD. “They know they have to be in Tennessee as part of the narrative they’re telling the market. So they may just absorb the fine if they don’t hit the 10%. These guys blowtorch $25,000 in five minutes of advertising, so its woop de doo.”
Another option could be to offer to pay tax as if books did hold 10%, and take the tax hit to acquire players.
The end result is still unclear, but with the market launching today, we won’t have to wait long to find out.