Sports gambling conference eyes risks, rewards of legalization

Rice’s Eubank Conference focuses on big data analytics and sports


Is the adoption of legal sports gambling in America a boon or bane?

The question will be one of many on the controversial topic at the Ninth Eubank Conference on Real World Markets at Rice University, which will focus this year on sports analytics and gaming risk management. The event will look at how computational tools and big data impact sports and change fan experiences through gambling.

The all-day virtual conference will take place April 26, and is free and open to the public. The event is sponsored by Rice’s Center for Computational Finance and Economic Systems (CoFES), the Department of Statistics and the Department of Sport Management.

Lectures will underscore the rising popularity of international sports, the growth of the global sports betting market and the importance of data-driven strategies, as well as industry concerns and the economic impact of legalized sports betting markets.

Registration for the conference is required to attend. Register here:

Twenty-two states have legalized some form of sports gambling on the back on a 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court, and the Texas Legislature is holding hearings on the issue.

Widely available, socialized sports betting is bound to have positive (tax revenue) and negative (gambling addiction) consequences, according to Clark Haptonstall, an organizer of the conference and chair and a professor in the practice of sport management.

“Sports betting has developed a different image than it had five or 10 years ago,” Haptonstall said. “With the influx of data analytics now being used to try to predict sports outcomes, it’s become a much more scientific process.”

Haptonstall helped organize the conference and will moderate the keynote talk by Rice alumnus Ed Feng, founder of sports analytics firm The Power Rank, and a subsequent panel discussion on all aspects of sports betting featuring 10 industry experts.

“Feng uses data analytics to predict future outcomes, and another panelist, Declan Hill, is very anti-sports betting because he’s seen what they call the match-fixing aspect of it, the dark side,” Haptonstall said.

He said much of Hill’s focus has been on gaming in Europe, Africa and Asia. “But he’s going to present on the corruption that’s likely coming to the United States, and his feeling that as sports betting becomes more normalized here, it’s going to bring some shady behavior.”

The rise of analytics in sports is well-established, so it makes sense that the science has influenced the betting community as well, said John Dobelman, a conference organizer and a professor in the practice of statistics at Rice.

“If you’ve read ‘Moneyball,’ you know every team has to have a director of analytics before they do anything now as a club,” Dobelman said. “They have to keep up with the times. That’s all quantitative statistical data that they’re crunching, using machine learning and big data techniques.

“The people on this panel will show where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “They can see the difference between the hype and the actual impact. That’s what I’m looking forward to finding out.”

Katherine Ensor, the Noah G. Harding Professor of Statistics at Rice and director of CoFES, noted that data science coupled with deep knowledge of a sport has significant impact on both the management of a team and betting, “transitioning it to a financial market and away from gambling.”

“This is going to become more prevalent, and more visible,” Haptonstall added. “Professional sports teams and leagues have been anti-gambling for decades, and now they’re embracing it because of the added revenue from gambling-related sponsors and increased viewership.”

He said the impact of advanced technology and new legislation is already evident.

“There’s a new style of bettor who is much more tech- and data-analytics savvy, as opposed to someone you’d envision sitting in a casino for hours on end,” Haptonstall said. “People no longer have to go to a casino. They just need a smartphone with an app.

“It’s a kind of grand reopening of the sports gambling industry.




The Rice Ken Kennedy Institute is located on the campus of Rice University inside Duncan Hall. Click the map below for directions.

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Phone: 713-348-5823

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