Longtime rivals FanDuel and DraftKings have a new form of competition: Which can create the most ingenious can’t-lose wager for online sportsbook customers, captivating them so much that it justifies the company’s loss to them?
How about enabling Pennsylvanians to bet the Philadelphia 76ers as a 59.5-point underdog against the Milwaukee Bucks, as FanDuel did Saturday night?
Or making the 76ers a 76-point dog, as DraftKings offered in a game last month vs. the Lakers?
It’s not just the pros either. DraftKings set the over-under point total at 51 for a Penn State-Indiana basketball game Jan. 29. That’s for both teams, folks, not just one — which itself would have been an unlikely enough offer. (DraftKings set the number to commemorate the 51st meeting of the two schools.)
FanDuel gave its Indiana customers a chance to bet Indiana’s basketball team as a 118.5-point (not a typo) underdog against Michigan State Jan. 23.
Indianapolis Colts fans — or enemies as well, because everyone loves free money — could bet them on FanDuel in Indiana as 51-point underdogs against the New Orleans Saints Dec. 16. (The Saints won 34-7.)
Are these operators crazy or what?
So what the heck’s going on here? Oddsmakers tripping on LSD? An array of website typesetters plagued by a form of numerical dyslexia? A mad race by FanDuel and DraftKings to give away all their money before a Medicare-for-All tax arrives?
Or there’s this explanation, as offered by FanDuel spokesman Kevin Hennessy for its “Spread the Love” offer this past weekend: “These types of promotions are really just fun for the customers. That’s the key. Our goal is to make betting fun.”
FanDuel opened the Sixers for a nationally televised game at Milwaukee as the same 8.5-point underdog common elsewhere, but the company’s app and website prominently displayed the promotion explaining that the point spread would go up 1 point for every 1,000 bets placed on Philadelphia.
There was no limit on how high the spread could go, and it didn’t matter when you bet it — the final point spread at game time would be what every bettor on the side of the 76ers received. The one catch was a $50 limit on the size of the bet.
Everyone betting that maximum amount thus won $45.45, even though the 76ers played poorly in a 119-98 loss, because they covered that eventual 59.5-point spread. FanDuel even added the winning funds to customers’ accounts well before the game ended.
The direct cost to FanDuel exceeded $2 million
Hennessy reported the payout on the promotion amounted to more than $2.1 million. He didn’t say how many customers took part, but doing the math, if the spread moved 51 points, it was between 51,000 and 52,000.
The only bettors kicking themselves would be the ones who didn’t take advantage of the offer, either because they were too busy to log in to the site Friday or Saturday, or didn’t notice the offer after signing in, or perhaps were out of state at the time.
The potential downside for true gamblers is there’s no real adrenaline rush, no action, to get the juices flowing on the outcome.
Hennessy didn’t see that as much of a deterrent. He said FanDuel’s prior two “Spread the Love” promotions had proven highly popular in Indiana, and the company felt it was the right time to offer one in Pennsylvania. (The Indiana-Michigan State point spread reached 118.5 because FanDuel increased it a point for every 250 bets rather than every 1,000.)
“Our customers in Pennsylvania in particular were always asking for it, and we figured it’s a great game to do it — the Sixers against the Bucks — and it’s going to be fun ride for everyone,” he said.
If there’s any excitement to the no-brainer offer, Hennessy said it comes from participants being able to view hour by hour how the point spread keeps rising.
DraftKings: It’s a fun, safe promotion to attract fans
DraftKings did not release figures for how much it paid out to Pennsylvania customers taking advantage of its 76-point spread and 51-point over/under total, which also had the $50 cap on wagers.
As to why it made the offers, DraftKings said in a statement to Penn Bets: “We want customers to enjoy using our product … These promotions are another way to get different types of sports fans involved in a fun, safe, and responsible way.”
Anyone who has registered with almost any online sportsbook — not just FanDuel and DraftKings — is familiar with deposit match offers that can put hundreds of the company’s dollars in the accounts of newcomers to help them get started. Many also have risk-free initial bets, another form of can’t-lose wagering.
Existing customers, meanwhile, are often rewarded for certain types of wagers or frequent betting volume by receiving free bets of $5 or $10, or by having similar amounts simply added to their accounts. That’s in addition to all the daily odds boosts that most sites tout as a chance for inflated winnings.
But only FanDuel and DraftKings, which are the online sportsbook leaders in Pennsylvania, have garnered attention for these can’t-possibly-lose bets of up to $50 for specific sporting events tied to teams within the state.
One obvious question is how often they can do it without the damage to their bottom line being more costly than whatever attention and customer appreciation is generated.
As of now, neither operator has advertised anything similar that is upcoming. If you missed out on the ones offered so far though because you didn’t notice them, you may want to pay closer attention in the future rather than short yourself the $45-$50 everyone else is getting.
Photo by Benny Sieu / USA Today Sports