Prime Sports gets back to basics
The newest sportsbook operator in America is here to do things the old-fashioned way
Fairness. Integrity. Customer-first.
These words are often espoused by marketing teams at regulated sportsbooks throughout the US. And nobody would argue that those aren’t important things, especially when it comes to consumer protection.
But some might argue that the sportsbooks’ actions don’t always match those words.
This is especially true when it comes to the standard practice of limiting players that exhibit any level of sophistication (or in betting parlance, sharpness).
For the uninitiated, sportsbook trading floors are in the business of risk management. They post odds on the outcome of an event, they accept bets on those various outcomes, and manage their positions and exposure by re-pricing markets based on how the action comes in.
Of course, one of the outcomes always wins, thus there will always be winners.
In the regulated US sports betting industry, those winners have often found themselves “limited” by operators. That is, the amount that a sharp customer can bet on a given market gets reduced to ~zero, effectively rendering that account useless.
(Spend any amount of time on #GamblingTwitter - if you dare - and you’ll quickly see screenshot-laden posts from people whose limits have been reduced.)
Enter Prime Sports, the newest operator in the regulated US market, who not only promises to not limit its winning customers, but it is vocal in its criticism of operators that do.
Joe Brennan, Chairman at Prime Sports, has been pushing for regulated sports betting in the US long before most people had ever heard of PASPA.
“I was part of the lobbying effort that resulted in Chris Christie signing New Jersey’s iGaming bill into law in 2013. That was an important precursor to PASPA’s repeal in 2018, so yes, I’ve been at this for a while.”
Being at the forefront of regulated betting in the US, Brennan has seen it all unfold.
“We had high hopes for the way the industry would operate here, but so far, it’s been somewhere between disappointing and totally brutal,” notes Brennan from Prime Sports’ office in Cherry Hill, NJ.
“I’m old school, and a bit of a romantic when it comes to the art of bookmaking. You post a number, and you take bets against that number. It’s a straightforward proposition that’s been completely lost on the vast majority of books. We’re here to show them how it’s done.”
Of course, taking bets from anyone regardless of their sharpness is not for the faint of heart.
It requires a lot of experience, smart algorithms, and an appetite for risk-taking.
Enter Adam Bjorn, the yin to Brennan’s yang.
Bjorn, an Australian national with a storied 25+ year career as a bookmaker and bettor, heads up Plannatech, which provides the technology platform and risk management services to Prime Sports.
“I’ve been booking bets for decades at some of the sharpest and most prominent bookmakers across the world. And when I’m not booking bets, I’m making them against other bookmakers.”
That depth of experience - including many expensive lessons learned - has given Bjorn confidence in his approach to managing sportsbook risk at scale.
“I’ve lost millions taking the wrong positions, but those are simply tuition payments that need to be made on the path to becoming a true bookmaker. From what I’ve seen in America, there aren’t many bookies like me. And if there are, corporate directives have prevented them from practicing their craft. It’s a shame, but it’s also our opportunity.”
Prime Sports is unmistakably a challenger brand in a market with oligopolistic forces (the top 4 sportsbooks in the US currently account for some ~85% of total wagers).
Brennan and Bjorn recognize that, but they also recognize that the status quo is leaving many feeling underwhelmed at the state of sports betting in the US.
This is what gets Brennan particularly animated. “Anybody that has seen me on Twitter will know that I’m no stranger to calling out BS when I see it.”
Continues Brennan, “where do I even start? How about the sportsbooks promoting same game parlays with over 20% holds. Or setting horrible precedents with all these ‘bad beat’ refunds. Or when CEOs make public comments that they don’t want their customers to win. This wasn’t the dream of regulated betting in America. But it’s what we’ve been given - at least so far.”
Bjorn adds to that sentiment from the trading side of things. “Sure, we expected to see stake factoring (ie. account limiting) used at some level in America, just as we do in more mature markets in Europe and Australia. But it’s been used too liberally here so far. It’s unimaginative, a bit lazy, and ultimately is an impediment to market growth in the long run.”
To illustrate just how aggressively customers are being limited by some sportsbooks, Bjorn cites a recent example of a customer that got his limits reduced despite the fact he was a net-losing customer. “This guy was telling me that most of his bets lost, but some of them had closing line value, which is often a signal of customer sharpness. Think about it: he literally lost money on his bets, and for his troubles, was rewarded with a restricted account. That’s insanity to me.”
Talking to Brennan and Bjorn about the current state of the industry does elicit some level of cynicism, but it comes from a genuine place of wanting to see things improve for players.
“We won’t have the widest range of markets. Our in-play product will roll out slowly. And you definitely won’t be collecting any crazy bonus offers from us,” says Bjorn.
“But if you’re a customer, you can always get a bet down with us. Everyone gets the same limits, which are posted alongside every market. And if you bet the maximum, you can re-bet an unlimited number of times. Everyone also gets our low-margin odds, which is crucial for any player that’s trying to grind out an edge.”
No. 1 thing we're hearing from players at #betbash2023?
"We need more outs". You can't bet if there's no book who'll take your action w/o limiting, pinwheeling or closing you.
In Sept, starting in OH & NJ, we'll take your bet up to the max amount, let you re-bet, no limiting,… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
— Joe Brennan Jr (@joebrennanjr)
Aug 11, 2023
Despite the depth of experience on the Prime Sports roster, it remains a startup with the same challenges as every other startup.
Chief amongst its challenges is helping to educate the market on the value proposition of playing with an old old school sportsbook instead of flashier recreational sportsbooks. Not that Prime Sports is the first one (shout out Circa), but it does have the ambition to operate in a double-digit number of states, many of which currently lack an option for bettors still sending their wagers offshore or to the street.
“Education is a key piece of the puzzle for us,” says Brennan. “But our version of educational content will look quite different from what you’ve seen from other outlets . Remember, they don’t actually want people to be educated in how to win at sports betting. If they did, then they’d welcome winning customers. At best, their ‘content’ is nothing more than engagement bait.”
Through that prism, it’s hard to disagree that there is white space for an operator to meaningfully differentiate using educational content.
Brennan continues, “Look, we’re not afraid of any action, which means that we can create content that is genuinely aimed at helping people become more confident and capable bettors. We want to be with them on their learning journey, from first learning what a point spread is, all the way up until they’re integrating our API to feed into custom models.”
For his part, Bjorn has his own ideas. “Expect to see me on Twitch streams regularly, live trading games and showing people what it looks like to do proper bookmaking in real-time. What other operational sportsbook in the US gives you that look behind the curtain?”
In a sea of sameness, sometimes going back to the basics is what’s needed to stand out.
Prime Sports is now live to customers in Ohio at www.primesports.com