QUEENS, N.Y. – The monotony of a mid-afternoon crawl on the Long Island Expressway brought the phone out of my pocket. A swipe and a tap later, I was in a sports betting app in search of something interesting yet low energy.
In-game baseball betting was mindless enough.
Matt Chapman, on base in his first plate appearance against the Yankees. Bet that. Bet canceled. Damn it.
Brandon Drury, on-base in his first plate appearance against the Brewers. Bet that. Winner.
Upfront, beyond his plexiglass barrier, the driver of cab 1D92 had no such opportunity to bet with his faculties busy negotiating lane changes and dump trucks outbound from LaGuardia.
But he soon might be able to join in on speculating on this slate of afternoon Major League Baseball betting — if he’d be willing to pay for “SmartRadio.”
A tech-savvy new way to bet?
Connected Travel LLC, a vehicle tech platform, Radioline, a global business-to-business radio and podcast solutions developer, and gambling tech platform Simplebet in April announced plans to launch free-to-play and sports betting platforms.
The companies claim it will allow drivers to place voice-command wagers – with an emphasis on micro-bets – as soon as commercial deals can be struck.
In a process perhaps eventually similar to the type of “Hey Google, do I need a coat?” requests that have become pervasive in our homes, bettors in cars will be allowed to place bets verbally while listening to terrestrial or satellite radio.
According to a release, SmartRadio is “being integrated into Radioline’s Android Automotive, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay Applications.”
So users would need a sportsbook account with a company utilizing the technology, a vehicle with the app that acts as a bridge, and its mobile companion on the phone.
“One of our partners is DraftKings,” Simplebet co-founder and CEO Chris Bevilacqua explained to PlayUSA.
“I could be driving in my car and have the Connected Travel app open. And I’m already a registered user of DraftKings because I’m in New York state and it’s legal and I’m driving down the Hutchinson River Parkway and I got the Yankee game on and I say, ‘Oh, [Aaron] Judge is up. I am going to make a bet on DraftKings that Judges get hit a home run in this at-bat.
“That that’s literally how I think it could or would work.”
At least initially, the bets will be simplified “hit/no hit” options while cars are in motion.
SmartRadio’s mission is to monetize the average of 55 minutes per day the United States’ 282 million drivers spend motoring. According to Edison Research, commute hours represent more than 70% of broadcast radio listening time.
Bevilacqua said SmartRadio is currently being consumer-tested but expected to launch this fall. “High-density” markets – think New York City metro, Maryland-Virginia, District of Columbia – are the targets.
Simplebet already lists DraftKings, Golden Nugget, Betway, and Intralot as clients for its in-game betting solutions that emphasize in-play offerings. SmartRadio would be leased to licensed sportsbooks for use in individual states and tailored to operate with their tech platforms. No such deals have been announced yet.
Belivaque said Simplebet’s relationship with DraftKings has been “hugely beneficial” because of its market share.
“We’re starting to get some real traction and we’ve got interest from some of the larger ones,” he said.
“I suspect will have some news here early this summer on one or two more of those.”
Does the world need this? Responsible gambling questions arise
It’s never going to be a gambling app’s job to save the world. But in a time when drivers are ever distracted by gadgets and media despite all the billboards imploring them to put down their phones, the question was inevitable.
The question crashes head-on into responsible gambling initiatives. Is this a good idea for society?
“I wouldn’t recommend undertaking any other activity while driving, be it betting on the phone and so on and so forth. So I reckon that concept itself might be taking it too far,” Martin Lycka, senior vice president for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain told PlayUSA.
“I’m not entirely sure whether the society would need it or benefit from it, because, clearly, from the pure driving perspective, it doesn’t sound like a very good idea.
“Having said all this … I do believe that ultimately we are headed towards an even more integrated betting world.”
No matter how or where bets are placed, licensed sportsbooks would remain in charge of monitoring a bettor’s frequency of play and taking actions to curtail activity it deems excessive.
Lycka said European research suggests that in-play betting in and of itself isn’t “automatically conducive to higher levels of gambling addiction.” But commutes bring forth acute behaviors in drivers, he said.
“I wouldn’t want to over-generalize, but there would be an increased risk of placing bets irresponsibly,” Lycka said.
“The drivers would run a risk of placing bets, out of anger, spite, in other words, bets that otherwise they wouldn’t have placed because they might have indeed gotten frustrated as a result of being stuck in a traffic jam.”
Added Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling:
“[Sports betting is] becoming gamified just like a slot machine. I don’t think you can make a skill-based, informed decision on the odds or a particular bet or do good money management or play responsibly when you’re going 85 miles an hour down the highway.”
“It just seems that those are not conducive. Those are not conditions that are conducive to responsible gambling in a traditional, skill-based approach. I think sports betting becomes just a random outcome, the more it becomes like picking a lottery.”
Bevilacqua said responsible gambling is a focus of the companies collaborating on SmartRadio but underscored that future sportsbook parties already have the tools to mitigate potentially harmful betting habits.
“Remember, we’re a B2B company,” Bevilacqua said.
“They’re the ones with the consumer relationship. There’s a heavy emphasis on responsible gaming and part of what we have a commitment to is to just make sure that we’re sharing information in real-time. If we spot anything that’s suspicious in nature, we’re sharing that information with our customers.”
“And, so, we’re obviously aligned with them on making sure that there is responsible gaming messaging. And to the extent that we spot any undue activity, we’re reporting it as quickly as possible.”
Whyte: States should better research responsible gambling impacts of new tech
There is possibly a growth moment here. Whyte said new technology like that employed by SmartRadio gives state regulators a chance to make better preventive policies. He can make no judgments on this idea. It could be harmless. He has no data to make any decisions.
“As with any new betting product, it should be researched for potential risks for gambling problems,” he said.
“There’s a lot you could do with that research. I don’t know that any state gambling regulator is going to require that prior to approval. I think with all these products, a gambling commission should require an assessment of potential risk and then [take] measures to mitigate any additional potential harm prior to a brand new gambling product being permitted.
“They have that power. They just don’t use it.”
Whyte is unaware of any research about this type of application. This illustrates, he said, how regulators tend to “push that off” to companies applying for licenses in various states. The proprietary SmartRadio system would require licensing in states where it would be used to facilitate bets.
“They require the applicants to do a whole lot of other work, just nothing around responsible gambling,” Whyte said.
“These tech companies have incredible resources, amazing designers. There’s a whole lot that if it was harnessed toward responsible gambling it would improve outcomes all the way around.”
“It would improve outcomes for the regulators because they’d have more information, improve outcomes for operators and their potential customers, improve outcomes for the users and it would improve outcomes for responsible gambling.”
“There’s no reason not to think about responsible gambling on the front side when you’re introducing a new sports betting product.”
Simplebet is after casual bettors, not big-money players, Bevilacqua says
Simplebet has invested more than $80 million in the software over the last four years, Belivaqua said, and about two months would be required to integrate it with a future sportsbook customer.
“It takes a bit of collaboration to do all that. Now that we’ve been through it a number of times with DraftKings and a handful of others, we’ve been able to figure out a way to make that technical integration less of a load on the customer and put it more on our plate,” he continued.
“Our business is trying to get ubiquitous distribution of the enterprise software. So not only on DraftKings, but also on FanDuel, Caesars, MGM and others.”
“It’s such a unique type of in-play betting experience, it’s more of an entertainment experience and it’s very attractive to a casual fan, which really has the most benefit to the entire ecosystem,” he said.
“Because there’s only so many hardcore bettors. The vast majority of people in the U.S. that bet are more casual fans.”
Maybe even cab drivers on the LIE.