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Sports Saturday

It’s shun and games in sports betting

DraftKings CEO Jason Robins angered many in the industry with his comments against for-profit players.

DraftKings CEO and co-founder Jason Robins got himself in some hot water with some imprudent comments.
Getty Images for DraftKings

LAS VEGAS — When he first perused the sports-betting quotes from DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, Long Island handicapper Tom Barton giggled, believing he was reading something from the Onion.

“I thought, ‘That’s funny. That’s smart, tongue-in-cheek joking around.’ Like Yankees manager Aaron Boone saying, ‘We’re not going to win any games this season.’ Ha ha.”

The Robins lines, though, were authentic, from a Canaccord Genuity digital conference Nov. 30.

“This is an entertainment activity,” Robins said. “People who are doing this for profit are not the players we want. . . . We want people to win. We just don’t want professionals, which is what any sportsbook would say.”

DraftKings sportsbooks operate in 14 states, including Illinois.

“I couldn’t believe that he would slap everybody in the face like that,” Barton, 44, says. “It’s one thing to believe it; it’s another thing to outwardly say it, especially in such a competitive market. I thought he lost his mind.”

Barton searched for a twist out of context, maybe a misquote. Nothing. Robins had said what he meant, meant what he said.

“That’s like the head of Disney saying, ‘We’re not catering to kids anymore,’ ” Barton says.

SAME INDUSTRY, DIFFERENT BIZ

Robins became a social-media piñata, although it wasn’t all venomous.

Wow, a Twitter patron wrote, the CEO of a major sportsbook operation saying the quiet part out loud; I gotta respect the honesty and transparency. It’s DK’s right to have this approach, someone else wrote. And another, They’re also not forcing you to bet.

Most of the feedback, however, has been blowback.

He won’t be CEO for long . . . imagine if every casino posted this mission statement on their front door . . . this is bad, very bad . . . people play to win, not to donate to DK . . . makes me never want to play on DK again.

“Whatever happened,” veteran horse-racing scribe Richard Eng wrote on the thread, “to the [Vegas legend] Benny Binion philosophy — You want to make a bet? Bring it on!”

Circa Sports director Matthew Metcalf and operations manager Jeffrey Benson didn’t shy away, either.

“At Circa Sports, we only want players who are trying to profit,” Metcalf, 42, wrote on Twitter. “If you are trying to lose, go somewhere else; you sound like a weirdo.”

Benson tweeted that he was a “noted non-DK supporter,” but he credited Robins for his transparency.

“It is wild to be in the same industry as others, yet in vastly different businesses,” Benson, 32, wrote. “For-profit players are welcomed here at Circa Sports.”

Benson wrote WAGMI — We’re All Gonna Make It — to appease Robins, who retweeted the acronym.

Robins, 40, displayed a sense of humor last Saturday, when he trumpeted a colorful, cartoonish picture of a dapper, big-mouthed chimp, with an exaggerated dovetail haircut and narrow blue eyeglasses, as his new Twitter avatar.

“Changing things up,” he wrote, “after a tough past week.”

INSULTING

In a sportsbook business whose profit margin is notoriously razor-thin, Boston-based DraftKings has thrown hundreds of millions of dollars into marketing and promotions. It offers bonuses, as other books do, to lure customers.

It expanded its fantasy platform to making book on sporting events after the U.S. Supreme Court let states pursue their own sports-betting ambitions in May 2018.

On Sept. 9, DK stock on NASDAQ hit $63.67. Like most stocks in the sector, it has been swooning, dipping to $28.37 on Dec. 3. On Wednesday, it had eked up to $33.34.

In 2020, according to Forbes, DK registered a net loss of $844 million. That same year, Robins and co-founding partners Paul Liberman and Matthew Kalish took more than $600 million in stock awards, revealed in a March proxy statement.

The company’s latest evaluation, Robins says, is $13 billion. In March, Forbes estimated his net worth at $1.1 billion.

That is also when DraftKings purchased the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN), which has a spiffy studio inside Circa’s sleek year-old property in downtown Vegas.

On a VSiN show Thursday, Robins compared sports betting to the stock market and disparaged legendary punter Billy Walters, “a Hall of Famer in every way,” Barton says. “Ridiculous. [Robins] is in no way a bookmaker.”

Several sources, marginally in DK’s orbit, declined to comment. A few bettors who do regular mid-four-figure DK business were loath to jeopardize those cozy relationships.

Dave Sharapan, a former oddsman at many Vegas books who now thrives dispensing expert industry insights, didn’t flinch when asked about Robins.

“Earn a customer’s business and get better at managing risk,” Sharapan, 51, says. “Take bets. Move numbers. Be fair. Otherwise, don’t say it out loud and insult the customer. That’s what that sounded like.”

THE CURTAIN

Barton has noticed a precipitous drop-off in DK television ads this NFL season. The Robins statements, he predicts, won’t help the sagging sector.

“It’s going to have a ripple effect,’’ he said. ‘‘Overall, the whole industry is going to take a small knock here because of what I would only describe as idiotic comments.”

As part of the nationally syndicated SportsGarten sports-betting radio network, Barton uses opposing viewpoints to strengthen his positions. But Robins left him flummoxed.

“Everyone wants to win, to have that feeling of winning,” Barton says. “He just told you, ‘Don’t count on it. Don’t try it. We don’t want you to win. And at the end of the day, you’re not gonna win!’ That’s really what he said.

“He pulled back the curtain of his entire industry a little bit. And what he did was, he hurt everybody.”