The date was Jan. 9. The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders, in the final game of the NFL regular season, were incentivized to play for a tie. They were two seconds of overtime clock away from ending in that tie. As one example of sportsbooks’ exposure if a tie occurred, FanDuel Sportsbook was on the hook for about $10 million.
A Daniel Carlson field goal prevented that scenario, but it was a helluva sweat.
DANIEL CARLSON FOR THE WIN.
What a way to end the 2021 season! #LACvsLV #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/LpERrW7WQ6
— NFL (@NFL) January 10, 2022
We should’ve known then that 2022 was going to be a strange and memorable year in the world of gambling.
As the year comes to a close, we look back on the 10 biggest and most intriguing stories in the gambling industry in 2022. Many of them center around sports betting — the vertical that for the past five years has been drawing the most media attention and dominating the advertising airwaves — but poker, online casino, and land-based casino stories make their way onto the list as well.
So let’s begin the countdown of the top 10 stories of the year. (And, in honor of the Raiders and Chargers, no ties here.)
In a less eventful year, the top 10 might have included some of the following:
10. New York downstate casinos are officially coming
When New York’s fiscal year 2022 budget was released in April, it made official what the industry had unofficially been preparing for by confirming that three downstate casinos — meaning in or around New York City — are coming to the Empire State.
That budget release was followed by a torrent of rumors and by talk of multi-billion-dollar proposals with everyone from Jay-Z to Mets owner Steve Cohen in the mix. Two of the licenses, it is widely assumed, will go to existing racinos in Yonkers and Queens. But the third? Could be another in Queens. Could be in Long Island. Or could there maybe be a full-scale casino in Manhattan? In Times Square even?
All eyes are on the Gaming Facility Location Board heading into 2023, as the industry waits to find out the fate of possibly three of the world’s most heavily trafficked land-based casinos.
9. Smooth move to World Series of Poker’s new home(s)
Years from now, even the most hardcore of poker fans are likely to have forgotten who won this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event or who racked up enough points to be named WSOP Player of the Year. What the 2022 WSOP is destined to be remembered for is the place, not the people.
After the world’s most famous annual poker event spent 17 years at the Rio just off the Vegas Strip, Caesars Entertainment moved it to two host properties on the Strip: Bally’s and Paris.
After a 2020 WSOP that was all but fully canceled due to COVID and a 2021 edition that was bumped to the fall and plagued (literally) by outbreaks, the bar was low for what would be considered a successful 2022 series. But even in a vacuum, this was an overwhelming success. Complaints of growing pains at the new venues were minimal, and the Main Event fell just 110 entrants shy of the all-time record.
8. Smaller mobile sportsbooks start exiting U.S. space
In 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, other than some COVID-related hiccups perhaps, it was growth, growth, growth in the mobile sportsbook business. In 2022, however, contraction began. The big players are all still chugging right along. Even the medium-sized books are staying the course. But the exodus of the small online operators is underway.
First TwinSpires, though still taking horse racing bets, announced plans to exit the sports wagering and iGaming space. Then theScore Bet exited the four states where it operated, shifting all North American focus toward Canada. By October, with the NFL in full swing and the big books thriving, Fubo Sportsbook waved goodbye. And a month later, MaximBet threw in the towel in the two states where the sportsbook was live.
Individually, none of these qualified as major news. But collectively, they represented a significant trend as the fifth anniversary of the fall of PASPA approaches.
7. Suspicious UFC activity leads to betting ban in Canada
Everybody loves a good scandal. (Well, everybody except the victims and, if justice is meted out in the end, the perpetrators.) In November, a UFC fight delivered the year’s big sports betting scandal when abnormal wagering activity was flagged. Signs pointed to Darrick Minner entering a fight with a lower-body injury, a bettor or bettors knowing about it, and Minner suffering an early stoppage that appeared to confirm the sportsbooks’ worst suspicions.
The UFC, which had recently banned fighters and their camps from betting on UFC events, reacted swiftly by disassociating from Minner and his trainer, James Krause. But that wasn’t good enough for the regulators in the two Canadian provinces of Ontario and Alberta, which temporarily shut down all wagering on UFC bouts.
In 2022, is a sport that you can’t bet on even a sport? At the very least, this situation has served as a wake-up call for the UFC, which needs to figure out how it’s going to navigate the legal betting era without erosion of public trust in the product.
6. Cheating allegations in crazy livestreamed poker hand
This was the Yanny or Laurel of the poker world, a single hand that attracted more scrutiny and debate than perhaps any since the death of Wild Bill Hickok. A livestreamed cash hand saw poker pro Garrett Adelstein semi-bluff six figures into a pot against amateur Robbi Jade Lew. She called him with jack-high, a decision that … well, let’s just say the poker textbooks don’t recommend it. But she and her J-4 won the pot.
A firestorm followed. Some were convinced she cheated and knew his cards. Others thought she’d just made a terrible play and got lucky. Still others praised Lew for a brilliant read. Some made it a referendum on gender stereotypes. Lew gave Adelstein his money back while maintaining her innocence. An employee working the livestream tried to steal some of her chips, and a police manhunt ensued. Mainstream media outlets from USA Today to the Los Angeles Times got in on the coverage.
Several weeks later, an investigation found no evidence of foul play. So perhaps the story will go away now. Even if it does, Robbi Jade Lew has joined a tiny club alongside Doyle Brunson as one of the few poker players ever to have a starting hand named after her.
Coming tomorrow: Part II, counting down the top five stories of 2022.