Can Anyone Crack The Social Sports Betting Code In US?

Written By

Updated on

social betting

As long as there has been online sports betting, there have been companies trying to “socialize” it.

That has taken various forms, but broadly it means trying to bring a casual bet between friends into a native betting app. If you can capture the banter around the bet as well, so much the better.

But as simple the concept sounds, no one has ever really nailed it — though not for lack of trying.

A route well-travelled

Back in 2002, Flutter was not the global gambling monolith it is today. Rather, it was a betting exchange built around friend-to-friend betting.

But friend-to-friend betting was also what killed it.

“They got completely the wrong end of the stick,” a former Flutter employee told the Guardian in 2002. “They thought people would bet with friends on whether they would beat each other at squash on Friday.”

Flutter ultimately lost its battle against another nascent exchange, Betfair, and was acquired by its rival. The brand was largely forgotten about until Paddy Power Betfair adopted it as its corporate name in 2019.

Still waiting for social betting to work

It is a familiar story in social betting. Since Flutter, we’ve seen many more attempts, from the so-called WhatsApp for betting to Sky Bet’s Group Bets.

Nothing has truly cut through into the mainstream.

But that hasn’t stopped US companies trying.

New solutions to old problems

DraftKings has pledged to deliver social betting experiences with new leaderboards and messaging features.

Smarkets SBK app has a social network within it, as does the BetBull app acquired by Wynn last year.

Chicago-based start-up Betsperts is also trying to build a social network for gamblers.

A new entrant to social sports betting

More recently, a US sports betting start-up closed a $4 million funding round to help it crack the social betting conundrum.

Wagr operates a sports betting app that lets friends offer bets to one another.

For instance, a user might like the Milwaukee Bucks -4 and send a $20 challenge to their friend to take the other side of the bet. The company has applied for licenses in Virginia and Tennessee.

Sports betting for non-sports bettors?

Wagr co-founder Mario Malave said he and his co-founder, Eliana Eskinazi, loved sports but had shied away from traditional sportsbooks.

“We wanted to build something so simple that anyone could use it,” Malave said. “Betting against a friend is completely different than betting against the house. It’s about bragging rights, smack talk and having fun.”

Why Wagr?

The product faces the same question as many of its predecessors. Why would a user join to Wagr to bet and banter when they can do so organically without transaction fees?

“Nothing productizes that experience from end to end,” Malave said. “Yes you could do it and chase your friends up for money. But nobody likes doing that. We make it seamless and automatic. Plus we haven’t seen a product up to the standard of a leading tech product.”

What’s old is new

There have, however, been other attempts to productize that entire experience.

Wagr is eerily reminiscent of a UK start-up called Wager that offered similar friend-to-friend betting.

Here’s what the Wager founders said back in June 2020:

“We’d have WhatsApp groups and chats in the pub about who’s going to win a game, who’s going to score, and they’d be full of disagreement but there was no real way to settle that in an easy way.”

Sound familiar?

Wager was ultimately acquired by BetBull without making much of a splash.

Can Wagr and other US companies change social betting narrative?

Perhaps the technology is now finally good enough to match the concept. But network effects are working against these products rather than for it.

If you are building a social network for gamblers, you are competing against WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. If you want to productize the transaction itself, you are competing against Venmo and PayPal.

That is an uphill battle for  listed giants like DraftKings, never mind for a startup.