Steve Budin, CEO of Pick Nation, has been around sports betting for a very long time, and has seen the industry grow from the street corner to the online space. With all of those years of experience, he seemed like the perfect man to discuss the current trends of the industry, and our Becky Liggero Fontana recently chatted with him about just that.
Budin really is a trail blazer, and he was happy to share his stories of the early days of the industry. “So in 1994, when I was in Panama and took the first bet from a U.S. citizen there, it was the first time in the history of the world that a U.S. citizen had actually bet overseas,” he said. “Quickly moved to Costa Rica in 96, laid the foundation there, put in the fiber optics, put in the Western Unions, put in the credit cards, built the whole, what we know now is the offshore online sports betting industry. If you would have told me in 1994 that I’d be here at a convention speaking to investment bankers and software providers all over the world and the legislators about sports gambling, then I would have said you were smoking crack. But I was wrong, here we are its happening, it’s the biggest topic in the world, and it’s amazing to see.”
Even though those Central American origins don’t get much talk now a days, Budin points out we’d be nowhere without them. “It’s undeniable that if we didn’t make those moves back in the 90s, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “So they can look at it however we want, this all happened because of what we did. We were cowboys, we were pioneers, we were willing to turn a business that was a street corner business into a corporate environment with computers, with customer service, with credit cards. We did all that stuff in the 90s with no net. You know, and now they’re doing it now, and whether they like it or not they’re gonna have to turn to us to figure out how to do it, because if they’re gonna figure it out on their own they’re gonna spend billions trying.”
Budin has moved on from taking bets to giving picks, but the core strategy hasn’t changed much. “I kept very close to the customer and my emphasis always has been on creating transparent, honest businesses where customers can trust the platform,” he said. “I did it in the sports betting business when we took sports betting off the street corner, I’ve now done it in the in the pick business. We took a business that was shady at best, with guys on the phone telling people whatever they had to tell them to get as much money as possible, we hired journalists, we hired actual sports bettors, and now like tip sheets at the racetrack, we’re informing gamblers all over the world how to bet, why to bet, and who to bet on. And it’s a lot of fun.”
Liggero Fontana asked his thoughts on the current state of the sports betting market, and Budin lamented some of the lack of experience proven by some organizations. “Truthfully, I see a very little bit of you know, of real sports betting knowledge out there,” he said. “I see a lot of guys that don’t know much about sports betting making decisions in the sports betting business. One of the worst things I’ve seen out here, or the silliest things I’ve seen, is all the talk about bet enabling stadiums. Like can you imagine going to an NFL stadium where no bettors are.”
Where the market needs to focus, he insists, is where the gambler prefers to go “If you want to bet enable something, bet enable sports bars,” he said. “That’s where your betters are. So like all this talk about turning the fan into a gambler, fans are not gamblers, gamblers are gamblers. So if you’re gonna spend money on attracting someone for your sports betting business, why not go after the gamblers don’t try to convert fans into gambling. Fantasy tried to do that with daily fantasy, and we know how that turned out, not so good.”
Unfortunately for old hands of Budin’s type, he believes the cowboy days he took part in might have permanently excluded him and leaders like him from the current gold rush. “Well listen, it’s like when legalization of cannabis happened, I mean it was a good for your local drug dealer?” he asked. “No! You know what I mean? All the pot dealers that got called up and said ‘Hey, they just legalized weed, that must be great for you!’ Click. That’s not great for me, you know what I mean? Look, you know, the operators in Costa Rica and Panama and Belize, they had their run. You know, and now its corporate America time, and in a lot of ways, corporate Europe, because if you look at it the companies that are coming in now and dominating the U.S. market are the European companies. The American government took the U.S. operators out a long time ago. And that’s why we’re seeing Betfred and William Hill and Victor Chandler and Ladbrokes, and all these companies from Europe dominating our U.S. market because the American government took us out of the game, and it’s a shame.”