Johnny Aitken grew up in the sports betting business.
Even as a kid, he would venture with his father to the racetrack seemingly every weekend. He’d write down the odds of competitors and hand them to his father, serving something like a No. 2 to the patriarch. It seemed only natural for Aitken to delve deeper into the sports betting world.
Now, a year after leaving William Hill, the US CEO of Australian company PointsBet is ready to bring his world to the United States.
In New Jersey, that introduction to one of the more intriguing products in sports betting expects to occur in late November.
Coming over from Down Under
Now based in Jersey City at PointsBet’s new offices, Aitken has already seen his company make quick-yet-giant strides.
The company’s namesake gave PointsBet its niche. With points betting, also known as spread betting, offers patrons a high-risk, high-reward stakes.
Using traditional formats as the foundation, bettors can wager, for example, $10 on the over of an NBA game with an over/under of 225 points. With each point past that total comes another $10. So, if a game ends at 235 points, bettors win $100. On the flip side, a 215-point total results in a $100 loss.
Launched in Australia in early 2017, PointsBet entered what Aitken described as a “competitive” market, one that featured the likes of major bookmakers William Hill and Paddy Power. While the online market remained “pretty mature,” as Aitken put it, PointsBet found its footing.
After all, the CEO said, the company used Australia as a stepping stone, “for us to sort of fine-tune our capabilities to be ready to go live if and when America” repealed PASPA and allowed for state-sanctioned legalized sports betting.
“Our founders … they always had a dotted line into America,” Aitken said. “The Australian business was always sort of set up as a proof of concept for the American market.”
As the US Supreme Court deliberated over the fate of the federal sports betting ban last winter, Aitken was hopping on flights to various states in the US. He “got to know the right people and got ourselves out there ahead of time to build those relationships.” PointsBet anticipated a repeal by SCOTUS. As such, Aitken and his crew began laying the groundwork for US entry.
In July, two months after the strike-down of the ban and a month after New Jersey launched its industry, PointsBet had its partner.
PointsBet links with Meadowlands
Aitken called PointsBet “lucky enough to participate in the process” with Meadowlands Racetrack.
The CEO noted that his company competed with 30 or 40 “of the biggest bookmakers in the world, sort of the who’s who” before the East Rutherford racetrack selected PointsBet as its second skin. (FanDuel Sportsbook used the track’s first online skin.)
Using Meadowlands’ sports betting license, PointsBet had the entry it needed to operate its online sportsbook in the Garden State.
The NJ sports betting industry has already taken off. It has already begun paying dividends (though perhaps not as much as insiders initially expected). Yet while eight sportsbooks (and a ninth on the way) are operational, PointsBet will not be scrambling to play catch-up, Aitken said.
PointsBet will certainly have a crowded field of competitors, but the CEO does not appear concerned.
Offering what no other product can
No other product in New Jersey — or even the WORLD, per Aitken — boasts similar betting options as PointsBet.
No other sportsbook rewards bettors who decided the over/under total was way too low or way too high.
“In a crowded market, where you have potentially up to 15 to 20 competitors in year one, that (points betting) is a huge asset for us. We do see it having extreme cut-through here in the US market.”
Spread betting has been around for some time, Aitken assured, particularly in Europe. Yet the most popular sport there, soccer, does not necessarily lend itself as a prime spread betting sport, what with low-scoring matches.
In the US, however, the high-scoring nature of the NBA and NFL, even in sports like baseball and hockey, allows for spread betting to truly spread its wings.
PointsBet not all about points betting
Aitken wanted to emphasize that PointsBet is not just spread betting. Featuring over 1,000 markets for NBA games, for example, PointsBet has the variety to satisfy any bettor. (That said, Aitken pointed out, “500 of those (thousand markets) no other product is offering in the world.”)
“We still offer the normal sportsbook’s experience, and that’s also very important. I’m hopeful that even if you just want to come to have one points bet a month, you still have to come to have it with us, because nobody else is offering this.
But also, if you want to have your normal parlay or your normal spread-line bet, you can have that with us, as well.”
The traditional parlays will exist, though points betting remains a singles market, Aitken said.
And with spread betting, users can prevent big losses but customizing a “stop loss” option. So for an over/under of 225, risk-averting bettors can set a 10-point safeguard; if the under falls at 214, rather than losing $110, the bettors only loses $100. (This also affects the maximum win; a 226 total nets $100 rather than $110.)
Success in NJ, starting soon
Aitken is not focused on the week-to-week wins/losses of PointsBet. Most of the company’s competitors will. Rather, the CEO said, PointsBet will maintain a long-term expectation.
“We want to win, obviously, but it’s going to be over a 12-month period. What you’ll see is a lot of our competitors, a lot of people are publicly held.
There’s a need to drive profit every week. If they get 95 percent of action for one team, they’ll try to lay off that bet or they’ll bring the odds in so they won’t take any more action on that or they’ll try to balance the books. … We have the confidence in the long term that we’ll win.”
Because of PointsBet’s connection with Meadowlands and its owner, Jeff Gural, the company also has a tie to Tioga Downs in New York. So if the Empire State ever launches legalized sports betting, PointsBet will have an entry point.
As for other states, Aitken said PointsBet maintains “active conversations” to expand.
In New Jersey, PointsBet nears its NJ sports betting debut. Aitken said the product is “in the final stages” of the platform being tested by the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement. And late November remains as the target launch.
But the Garden State, Aitken said, is only the beginning for PointsBet.
“We want to have a national footprint. That’s our intention.”