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2019-05-15 18:28:03

The VSiN studio sits on the South Point Casino floor. Just behind it sits one of the busiest sportsbooks in the country. (Jen Booton/SportTechie)

Tune into VSiN’s online stream for just a few minutes and you will be inundated with spreads, trends, injury reports and historical relevance. From a shiny new studio sandwiched between slot machines at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa in Las Vegas, VSiN is cementing its role as the CNBC of the gambling market.

Located eight miles south of the Las Vegas Strip, The South Point Hotel Casino and Spa operates one of the largest sportsbooks in the country. It is a 14-year-old stalwart of sports betting. Inside sit some of the most legendary line originators in the U.S., including Richie Baccellieri, the founder of Nevada’s premier race and sports bookmaking software, Stadium Technology.

Baccellieri is the first person to put out the odds for every game of the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament within five minutes after matchups are announced by CBS on Selection Sunday. South Point immediately starts taking bets of all sizes based off his lines in an incredible display of trust, even before other lines at other sportsbooks around the world are set. Not long after, the market for sports betting buzzes alive like the stock market after an initial public offering, as malleable spreads shift in response to supply and demand.

“The Europeans are pushing their methods and ideas into the North American market and I must say that I’m not too happy about it, even though our parent company now is one of those companies,” Baccellieri said from a small room that serves as the office for South Point’s chief oddsmakers. Nearby, a grid of screens on the wall shows games. On busy Saturday and Sundays, groans in the sportsbook come at odds to cheers on the casino floor.

“He knows more about sports betting than anyone else in the country,” said VSiN CEO Brian Musburger about Baccellieri during a tour of the facilities las month.

Baccellieri and his peers are not VSiN employees, but they’re housed a mere 50 feet from the glass walls of VSiN’s cube-shaped casino-floor studio. When news breaks, such as of a major injury, VSiN’s on-air team of sports betting statisticians, bettors, and analysts can walk down the hall to talk directly to those who are controlling the spreads. The studio can even patch into the back room where Baccellieri and his peers sit, and have them directly comment on the market’s.

The South Point Casino sportsbook with two-dozen television screens and a board displaying odds. (Jen Booton/SportTechie)

“We’re able to hear right away what that means for the spread, what that does to the line. And we report it instantly,” Musburger said. “It’s really unique for a news organization to have that kind of access. This is the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.”

The nephew of iconic sportscaster Brent Musburger, and currently an editor and broadcaster at VSiN, Brian Musburger has his own deep ties to the sports and gambling world. A veteran sports and entertainment talent agent, Musburger started VSiN in early 2017 after seeing a gap in the market. He negotiated with South Point to remove a section of slot machines that had been netting the casino about $40,000 a week in revenue. He convinced casino owner and operator Michael Gaughan, whose family has a long history at the helm of South Point, and thus at the pinnacle of Vegas sports betting, that the value of a casino studio was worth the revenue hit.

“So that was the cost of putting our studio in,” Musburger said. “We’ve helped. Business is up over 100 percent year-over-year as a result of us being here.”

In July 2018, two months after the Supreme Court ruled on Murphy v. NCAA and permitted states to legalize sports betting, VSiN received a strategic investment from SeventySix Capital, a venture firm led by seasoned investors Wayne Kimmel, Jon Powell, and recently retired MLB superstar Ryan Howard. In a press release at the time, Kimmel said the sports betting market was projected to balloon to more than $250 billion by 2020. VSiN, he said, was “positioned to capture a significant share of the media and analytics segment of this new market.”

Legalization has been sweeping across the United States. Seven states now have state-regulated sports betting industries. Dozens more are moving towards legalization. That climate, coupled with a cash influx from SeventySix Capital, have lit a fire under Musburger and the media network he operates.

Over the past year, VSiN has been undergoing massive expansion. It has entered new, burgeoning markets with a cross-platform distribution model that spans from terrestrial and satellite radio to local newspapers (among them the New York Post, the Sun Herald in Mississippi, and the Las Vegas Review Journal), regional sports networks (such as Boston’s NESN), and streaming platforms such as Sling TV.

VSiN has also been expanding its staff of writers and on-camera talent, researching new types of storytelling and content, and developing new products that it can offer at a premium to subscribers.

One of VSiN’s goals over this time has been to educate the consumer about legalized sports betting. With many bets in the U.S. still shuffling through unregulated sportsbooks, he has found that there is a knowledge disconnect about the variety of options available with legal betting. Part of that education is the content VSiN produces as part of its daily operations. It pushes out analysis in both markets where sports betting is legal, and those where it hasn’t yet been approved, where VSiN’s research has shown a concentration of people interested in sports betting. It has also hosted event-specific live panels at South Point that directly educate attendees on the nuances of betting a specific event, such as the Super Bowl.

“The awareness of sports betting has grown. More people are dipping their toes in the water and trying to learn it,” Musburger said. “But I still think the U.S. consumer doesn’t understand it yet. And that’s the role for an organization like ours: to help guide people through this period of tremendous change where the betting menu has exploded for the consumer over the last four years.”

Supplementing VSiN’s efforts to educate has been a significant behind-the-scenes push to develop technology products that better aid sports bettors and increase its caliber of storytelling. In that sense, the company is not unlike, say, CNBC, the Wall Street Journal, or Marketwatch, where news stories and deeper analysis pieces run alongside tools, such as ticker pages or portfolio tracking, that help investors better navigate the markets. An example of that at VSiN are its Betcasts, meant to accompany a game, where analysts discuss how the action on the field is correlating with movements in the betting market.

“We sort-of synthesize what happens on the field or on the court, and then talk about how it impacts the betting markets,” said Musburger. “It’s a completely different conversation not relevant to all sports fans. But if you are betting in-game, what we’re doing has tremendous value to you. We’re having a discussion about how the line would move should there be an interception at a football game. To the people who do have money at risk, it’s an informative discussion that they want to be a part of.”

An “on-air” sign illuminated outside the VSiN studio at the South Point casino. (Jen Booton/SportTechie)

As much as Musburger may welcome the comparison to CNBC, he also likes to consider as closer to Bloomberg—the trading terminal and financial news site that has arisen as one of the more sophisticated tools available to financial traders. As part of VSiN’s next stage of growth, the company is investing in tools that will supplement its storytelling. One example is line shopping, which shows the spread of prices across the various U.S. sportsbooks so that users can make more informed decisions about where to place a bet.

“We’re developing tools for the sports bettor, to help them better understand and anticipate line movements,” Musburger said. “There’s different prices at different properties, so if we’re able to help people start to navigate and find the best price and make the market more efficient, that’ll be an interesting development for sports bettors.”

Musburger said VSiN is also “monitoring” the market to potentially, one day, enable trades directly from the platform in which users are consuming news. This is currently impossible in sports betting due to federal restrictions, but is something traders can already do in the financial markets on, say, a Bloomberg Terminal.

“I think, eventually, it gets there,” he said, “but we’re a ways from it.”


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