Q&A: Kambi's Bichsel On Future of Data, Betting, Law in U.S.
As director for Kambi Group plc in the United States, Max Bichsel oversees a data and sports betting services operation that is at the core of the legal sports wagers placed by his company's operators. In the afterglow of a Super Bowl LIII he deemed a success, Bichsel spoke with Gambling.com about the spread of legal sports betting, the bonanza that promises to be the NCAA Tournament and how a better Wire Act might read.
GDC: How do you think the industry performed on one of its biggest event weekends of the year?
MB: I think it went really well. I can’t comment on performance, obviously, but we saw some record numbers. Everything from Kambi, within our network of operators went very well. We've been preparing for it for a while, so on our side we're pretty pleased with it.
A very interesting game, for sure, so it was nice to give these states an opportunity in a regulated market. So, I would say it's a milestone, obviously. It’s the first Super Bowl with regulated sports betting outside of a couple states that had traditionally offered it. So, for us, it's definitely an exciting time in states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, where we have operators online and at retail. Very exciting and now we're on to the next big thing which would be March Madness.
GDC: Will the NCAA Tournament be the sports betting industry highlight of the year again?
MB: Yeah, I'd say for sure. I mean, if you think, and I'm speaking purely on the U.S. market, it's definitely bigger than the Super Bowl, mostly, just on the volume of games, the frequency of games because there really is ‘March’ Madness, but it runs into April. ... It’s probably 45 days of high-intensity basketball with a lot of different games. So, definitely I'd say the frequency and the volume, the handle the will be much higher than what you'd see in the NFL playoffs.
GDC: Officials in New Jersey foreshadowed that a lot of the operators there would do some unique things, maybe a mock-up an NCAA bracket grid with the option to bet all the way through. Will bettors see those kinds of offerings?
MB: I fully expect them. I can't really comment on who's going to be doing those, but I fully expect it. I think you'll see some innovation, specifically in types of tournaments like that, whether it's the NBA Finals or NCAA Tournament or even some other collegiate sports as well as the professional teams, that lets people wager on something that's not just an individual instance.
I definitely think some of these operators that are innovative will continue to innovate and come up with some pretty cool things for the customers that they haven't seen before, whether with offshore bookmakers, from local bookmakers in the regional market. And that's the exciting part. These operators have the bandwidth, the expertise and the knowledge to do things that are very innovative. And in that respect, it makes us as a supplier excited as well because we try to work with the operators that want to do stuff like that. Kambi enables them to being much more innovative than they alternatively would be.
GDC: Is it important as the industry tries to mainstream itself and attain new customers, to present a betting option that looks like something familiar?
MB: I think overall, there's a consistent amount of money being wagered illegally in dark markets in the U.S. So I think it's something people are very aware of. They're very keen on it. You can look at some of the casinos we opened thus far in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and people get pretty acclimated very quickly, whether it's because they have experience in Nevada or they have experience playing elsewhere. I don't see too much attrition on that side of the education piece. I think for newer gamblers, more recreational players that aren't playing every day or every couple days, the people that are more risk-averse, it makes sports betting more attractive, more approachable by offering these new and innovative games.
GDC: Is there a formula for weaning the public from offshore books and into the legal and regulated markets?
MB: I think, theoretically, it's something you can never get rid of. You can never totally get rid of a dark market or an unregulated market in the U.S. with illegal bookmakers, but I think how you're able to combat that is not only just regulating the market and making it a safe place for a bettors to play, it's also giving them a product that's innovative. It's newer functions, it's newer offerings.
It's whether or not Jared Goff is going to throw for 60 yards or 64 yards or 23 yards on a specific drive rather than just saying, ‘Hey, are the Rams going to win the game?’ I think that's probably the best way to attract players. The first priority is definitely safety, if you're able to deposit funds, withdraw funds very quickly, it’s a very transparent process, and it's in a manner that people are familiar with them, with how they transact on a day-to-day basis with other retailers or services or whatever the case may be.
GDC: What is the future of data as a commodity in the new sports betting landscape?
MB: I think that's going to depend on the legislators and the regulators, whether they do have legislation that does involve a royalty fee or an integrity fee, or whatever the nomenclature, someone's using. That could have an impact. I think you'll really be able to get an idea, if there is legislation that includes some sort of fee to leagues and it's successful, I think you'll see it replicated. But if it has imposed on the market something that becomes unsuccessful, I think similar to tax rates, everyone will try to take the best bits of each state in terms of regulation and continually refine that process.
So, if it's an obstacle to business or becomes a burden to the operator, I don't expect that to continue. That being said, I think there's going to continue to be deals done between operators and leagues throughout the country. ... It's very difficult to understand exactly what the landscape will look like. But I do know from the integrity piece we want to make sure that the leagues are comfortable, that they're happy and they're able to put out contests with integrity. And I think there's a middle ground. I just think we're in the process of trying to figure that out. And that's mostly between the operators, the legislators, and then the regulatory bodies in each regional market.
GDC: Do you prefer one federal law or individual state legislation in regulating sports betting?
MB: Ultimately, Kambi wants the most competitive market as possible. I think a federal law would provide some challenges, but it would also provide some very important elements that would make doing business easier. But ultimately, I think it will continue to stay a state-by-state issue. I mean, it took the Supreme Court several years to rule on appealing PASPA after several arguments were heard. I think there's a lot of other bodies when you talk about a federal law and what sort of impact that has on other businesses and other states that are huge contributors to tax revenue and whether or not they want have sports betting available, or even have gaming available.
I think Kambi doesn't really have a preference, nor do we have a much of an impact on the legislation we deal with, with the cards we're dealt from a legislation perspective and for the most part, they've been a boon for business in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and some of these other states where we've launched.
GDC: What would be the best version of the Wire Act for the industry?
MB: I think ideally there would be no Wire Act specific to sports betting. I mean, there certainly would be a Wire Act for other businesses. But I think for the Wire Act, it in some cases promotes a sense of fear where operators want to make sure they're not crossing any boundaries where everyone's intentions are good and it's not something that is going to be a problem for the consumer. I think ultimately you want to protect people. I just think some of those protections can be overzealous. So in terms of what the Wire Act is for Kambi, it's mostly dictated by our operators and our partners of how we transmit data if at all, across state lines.
GDC: How far will the industry develop in terms of what customers will be able to bet on, including biometric data that is being harvested from players during games?
MB: Kambi really is focusing on instant market, which is whether or not this guy will make a free throw or whether or not there'll be a 24-second shot clock violation or whether or not a running back will rush for two yards or five yards. So I think the instant markets are something that people are going to continue to be attracted to, and I think you see that in New Jersey right now.
It's in some of these instant markets Kambi is able to create for the operator that are considerably moving the needle. But it's also a way to acquire players where someone is at a Giants game at the Meadowlands in New Jersey and they want to know at top speed how fast Saquon Barkley runs. So I do foresee that to be available in the future with the data that we'll have available from the stadium or the league or whomever's providing the data.
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