News & Opinion

PGA Tour goes all-in on simulcast gambling


NBC's SportsEdge BetCast debuts on Phoenix Open telecast, but hosts hedge bets amid dizzying mix of prop bets and evolving odds

The PGA Tour has enthusiastically embraced gambling, which on its surface appears to be a long shot to accomplish the Tour’s objective: attract more spectators to consume more of the online content generated by the Tour and its partners.

Hence, NBC’s SportsEdge BetCast, with odds provided by PointsBet, which made its debut on Thursday on Peacock, the network’s streaming service. A Peacock Premium subscription is $4.99 a month, although golf bettors can dip their toes with a seven-day free trial. SportsEdge BetCast will appear on Peacock through the final three days of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

If the golf-gambling marriage appears to be a complicated relationship, it’s understandable, because betting on golf with as many ways as PointsBet provides, well, is complicated. In traditional sports gambling, you bet on a winner or the over/under on the total points and wait until the end of the game to reveal the outcome.

In golf, it takes four days to determine the tournament winner, leaving a lot of time to fill from Thursday through Sunday. Not only can you wager on the outright tournament winner, but you can bet on the low round or low nine holes of a threesome, the score on a single hole … and that’s just scratching the surface.

“If there’s anything you can think of, we can turn it into a betting market,” said Australian Jay Croucher, whose title at PointsBet is head of trading, which means he’s heavily involved in setting odds.

Phoenix Open odds to win after first round
A look at the updated odds to win the Phoenix Open after the 1st round Thursday via the PGA Tour's companion gaming leaderboard, which is updated in addition to the traditional tournament leaderboard.

PointsBet was founded in Australia but is a full-service U.S. sportsbook, which develops point spreads and fixed odds in all major sports. As of this moment, PointsBet gamblers can bet legally in only six states: Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey.

The host touts on SportsEdge BetCast are Golf Channel veterans Steve Burkowski and George Savaricas, along with Golf Channel alumnus Matt Ginella (who insists on being called “Matty G”). Each was given 500 “points” to bet before play started and another 1,000 “points” to wager for the four days of the tournament.

The TV guys did their best to explain how it all works and attempted to share their thinking on the faux bets on Thursday. They even asked Croucher and Teddy Greenstein, former longtime sports columnist at the Chicago Tribune, for advice on betting strategy.

To say the PointsBet pair hedged would be understating the point. They absolutely refused to give betting advice, and with good reason. The purpose of a sportsbook is for as many people as possible to lose. That’s why they call it gambling.

As an illustration, the TV announcers lost way more bets than they won, by a long shot. But trying to keep up with all the prop bets was a little dizzying, even though viewers almost exclusively saw golf from just one group: Louis Oosthuizen, Harold Varner III and Scottie Scheffler.

You can bet for or against a hole-in-one or a playoff; birdie or better, par or bogey or worse on an individual hole; closest to the pin of the threesome; whether two of the three makes birdie or better on a pair of holes.

The screens showed the traditional tournament leaderboard and an odds leaderboard for the outright winner, and the odds changed during the round. Matthew NeSmith was 300-1 before the tournament and was knocked down to 20-1 after his first-round 8-under 63. Mark Hubbard was 22-1 after his 63 but 10 minutes later was down to 18-1 because of what Croucher said was an influx of “sharp betting.”

The most awkward part of the webcast was the effort by the announcers to mix golf analysis with betting analysis. Do one or the other, but remember: This is not a traditional telecast.

More than once, viewers were encouraged to have a gambling budget and stick to it, that advice coming from the American Gaming Association.

“If anybody thinks this is a second job or if you’re going to make a lot of money betting on golf, you’re crazy,” said Greenstein, who left the Chicago Tribune after 24 years to sign on late last year with PointsBet as a senior editor. It makes one wonder what a senior editor does at an online sportsbook.

“There are a few sharps out there who will do well,” Greenstein said. “But for most of us, it’s really entertainment. If you can make a bunch of bets and maybe win a few while you’re watching golf, that’s what this is about.”

But how many people will have a budget of $500 – or even $100 – per day for gambling at a four-round golf tournament to make enough bets each round to keep their attention the whole time? That’s only one aspect of this fledgling operation that needs smoothing out.

As far as the streaming telecast goes, the announcers should do a bit more of putting their “points” where their mouths are, which is to say, bet more and talk less.

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