An upcoming decision in the Tennessee legislature could alter the relationship between sportsbooks, data providers, and professional sports leagues across the country.
Two mobile sports wagering operators, SuperBook Sports and Gamewise (Betly), asked Tennessee’s sports betting regulator for permission to use unofficial league data for NFL wagering prior to the state regulator’s March 1 meeting. The Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Council sent the decision to the state legislature, and lawmakers recently proposed a pair of bills (SB 475 and HB 1362) that would eliminate the state’s official league data mandate.
HB 1362 was rolled to the heel of the calendar during a committee hearing last week, and the bill can still be discussed later in the legislative session, which ends on May 4. SB 475 is on the calendar for a Tuesday hearing in the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.
The Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Council punts the request from SuperBook and Gamewise (Betly) to allow the sports betting operators to use unofficial league data as it relates to NFL wagering.
The SWAC recommends the legislature address the official league data issue.
— Bennett Conlin (@BennettConlin) March 1, 2023
“I do believe that’s gonna get traction in Tennessee,” one industry source told Sports Handle.
SuperBook and Betly would be pleased to see the bills become law in the near future.
Tennessee’s unique mandate
Tennessee isn’t the only state with some form of official league data requirement, as Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Virginia also have requirements. Arizona and New York include language in their regulations, while other states include language in their sports betting statutes related to official league data requirements.
Tennessee’s requirement, however, is a stronger mandate than in other states. Illinois and Tennessee require operators to use official league data for live betting purposes. Operators don’t appreciate the mandate, as the data providers can charge hefty fees that the operators essentially have to pay to do business in the state.
Tennessee’s unique mandate, which doesn’t require the league to actually request the use of the official data, requires sports betting operators to partner with Genius Sports for NFL official league data. The price of that relationship put a burden on SuperBook and Betly, according to the operators.
Unfortunately for the SWAC, the statute didn’t include clear language about how to determine if the terms of the agreement were actually “commercially reasonable.” States with official league data requirements often use the “commercially reasonable” or “commercially unreasonable” phrasing, but specifics as to what that phrase means are often lacking.
Operators typically receive official league data through national contracts with data providers. Major operators like DraftKings and FanDuel, for example, form large national deals with data providers to use the data across the many states where they operate mobile sportsbooks, including Tennessee. For those operators, it’s an expected cost of doing business. For smaller operators only operational in a few states, it’s a larger burden.
Non-official league data feeds can leave smaller operators behind when it comes to live betting, however, as official data feeds are considered the fastest. Even a delay of a few seconds can be important when it comes to updating in-game odds, an industry consultant said.
“Quite simply, it’s the difference between being able to offer a reasonably competitive live betting product and being completely left in the dust,” the consultant told Sports Handle.
Would a change to Tennessee’s official league data mandate lead to other changes across the country? It’s possible, at least in some capacity.
Given the value of official league data feeds for live betting, among other things, it’s not going away any time soon. Major national operators like Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, and FanDuel have official partnerships with the NFL, and the partnership announcement confirmed that those sportsbooks would use official league data.
“Even if Tennessee eliminates official league data, it will likely still be used nationwide because it’s sort of become the de facto product at this point in time,” the industry source said.
The decision could have implications for states planning to offer legal betting in the future, the industry consultant told Sports Handle. When crafting language in a wagering bill, avoiding an official league data mandate could help foster a more robust sports betting market, given the cost of official league data mandates to small operators.
“It’s clear that if a certain type of data mandate is immediately going to be prohibitive to market entry for a swath of the operators, I would certainly believe that any stakeholders in a new state are going to take that very seriously, especially those that are looking to create a competitive and thriving market,” the consultant said.
Regardless of what happens, eyes will be on Tennessee in coming weeks. The state already has a unique tax rule that the proposed legislation could shift to a different unique rule: a tax on a set percentage of an operator’s monthly handle instead of its revenue.
The official league data question adds intrigue to the state’s legislative session.
“I think there are a lot of industry stakeholders on all sides, whether it’s regulatory, whether it’s operator, whether it’s provider, that are going to be watching this pretty closely,” the consultant said.