Small Wager, Big Problem

September 24, 2018

Sports betting has been legal in multiple states for a few months now, with many more locations sure to follow. I’ve been paying attention as bookmakers and companies scramble to capitalize on this new world where fans can plunk down cash on any sporting event without heading to Vegas or finding a sketchy bookie to take their action. People can even bet during games as the odds change in real-time based on the current situation. There are people who have never made a bet before, sports books building the plane as they are flying it, and millions of dollars changing hands. What could go wrong?

We found out last week when the FanDuel Sports Book in New Jersey had a glitch in its system and briefly posted wildly incorrect odds toward the end of an NFL game, making the Denver Broncos a 750-1 long shot to win its game against the Oakland Raiders as it was in position to kick a game-winning field goal. Before things were corrected, a handful of people made bets, including a man who wagered $110 on Denver to win. When the Broncos did secure the victory, FanDuel balked at honoring his winning ticket for $82,610, claiming the man was really only owed $18.35.

“A small number of bets were made at the erroneous price over an 18-second period,” FanDuel said. “We honored all such bets on the Broncos to win the game at the accurate market price in accordance with our house rules and industry practice, which specifically address such obvious pricing errors.”

The $82,610 ticketholder didn’t share this opinion and went to the media. When the story was reported, the social media mob went nuts and FanDuel caved and paid the man his money. PR disaster averted, right? Far from it. Not when you think of the long-term ramifications. FanDuel needed to act quickly or face credibility issues in a time where it was trying to attract novice bettors. And it didn’t need a lingering controversy creating negative news as it was trying to get sports betting legalized all over the country. But did it set a precedent in the process? Will it need to pay out any winning ticket going forward or face even more backlash and scrutiny?

I’d like to know what would’ve happened if the Broncos hadn’t won the game. Would it have refunded the fan’s $110? If FanDuel has the ability to call off a bet after the fact due to an obvious error, it’s only logical that a gambler could do the same. It’s safe to say a person may not have wagered if the odds weren’t so juicy. And if that’s the case, it would be in the best interest of consumers to bet every penny in their bank accounts the next time this situation arises.

The only sure thing is that the mess this “glitch” created is far from over. And the stakes are only going to get higher.