The rise of Gambling Twitter - New social media data shows the exploding popularity of sports betting

The rise of Gambling Twitter: Social media and the popularity of sports betting

The passionate online community known as Gambling Twitter has long been an intense battleground, full of bettors, bookmakers, con artists and trolls.

For years, bettors and bookmakers have relentlessly lobbed pot shots at each other, while anxiously awaiting the next tweet from a small-college beat writer or for a WNBA player to post a telling emoji. Meanwhile, con artists, promising inside information and guaranteed locks, lurk behind random anonymous accounts, ready to take advantage of the gullible, and trolls stand poised to attack anyone who doesn't meet their standards.

People absolutely love it. And, now, with widespread legal betting spreading rapidly, Gambling Twitter is on the rise.

In February, according to Twitter, the top hashtag included in sports betting tweets about the Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals wasn't #ramsnation or #whodey -- it was #GamblingTwitter.

"Hashtag Gambling Twitter is a thing," Mike Dupree, director of media and entertainment for Twitter, told ESPN. "I don't think we can trademark it, but it is certainly something that has its own identity and community, which has been awesome to see."

Twitter, for the first time, is releasing internal data and commenting on the prevalence of sports betting content on the social media platform. The data was gathered by Twitter Insiders studies and comes from a sampling of individuals 18 or older who have bet on sports in the past 12 months, live in a state where sports betting is legal and use at least one social media platform.

The study found that seven out of 10 bettors surveyed are on Twitter and that conversation on the social media platform drives bettors to bet more frequently and place larger wagers. Additionally, according to the data provided to ESPN by Twitter:

• 62% of bettors on Twitter place wagers weekly and spend 15% more on bets annually compared to bettors on other social media platforms.

• 72% of bettors check Twitter to follow the status of their live bets once they've been made, and 65% said they are more motivated to place a bet on a big event that everyone is talking about on social media.

"We have already seen more people tweet about sports betting this year than we did in all of 2021, and the NFL season hasn't even kicked off," Dupree said.

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Ed Salmons, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker of around 30 years, was introduced to Twitter by a colleague around 2009, and after discovering TweetDeck -- a platform that allows you to create multiple curated feeds on the same screen -- recognized how valuable of tool it could be for bookmakers. Seven years later, Salmons used Twitter to put his sportsbook in an advantageous position on a Thanksgiving night game between the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Monday, Nov. 21, 2016, Salmons and the team at the Las Vegas SuperBook had just put up opening lines on Week 12 of the NFL season when a Colts beat writer tweeted about Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck.

Luck had been dinged up the day before against the Tennessee Titans but finished the game. The tweet from the Colts beat writer wasn't straightforward, but Salmons said he read between the lines and came away believing that it was unlikely Luck would play Thursday against the Steelers.

With most sportsbooks sitting at Steelers -3, Salmons moved the SuperBook's line to -7. Some competing sportsbooks reacted by pulling the game off the board, while other shops held steady at Pittsburgh -3. Bettors, in the meantime, began firing bets on the Colts at +7 at the SuperBook, figuring they were getting a bargain with the price differential.

"In a situation like that, when you see it and you know it, it's good for the book to essentially try to get ahead of it, because we knew that line was going to be on the other side of seven once it came out," Salmons said. "So, we got a bunch of money on the Colts, and then the news broke."

With Luck ruled out, Pittsburgh closed at around an 8-point favorite. The Steelers beat the Colts 28-7.

Salmons constantly monitors his TweetDeck these days, looking for news. He often puts in the names of quarterbacks in the search function to keep tabs on injury statuses and also looks for live weather reports. At the same time, he knows he has to be careful not to get duped by Twitter tricksters who get their kicks from building profiles that replicate those of mainstream reporters and duping people with fake news.

"I think at one point everyone's been fooled with the fake accounts," Salmons said. "To me, you get one shot at being wrong and then, after that, you need to verify what you're seeing is actually true. I think for the most part, we've done a pretty good job with that."

Bettors also have to be wary of con artists on Twitter. For example, accounts claiming to have inside information regarding "fixed games" have been regularly posting in betting-related threads, asking for money in exchange for the details.

"Where there are bad actors on Twitter, we continue to put tools in place to ensure a safe experience for sports bettors on the platform," Dupree said. "One thing to start with is before placing bets based on a tip on Twitter, sports bettors should take a quick second look at the account and ask if it's a trustworthy source of information. Is it verified? Have you looked at their bio, their past tweets? There's some work we should do as bettors to make sure we're following legitimate and trusted sources."

Hint: Anyone who claims to have information of a fixed game and is selling it for $50 on Twitter isn't likely a legitimate, trusted source.

The data released by Twitter shows that bettors of all levels use the platform to help their handicapping. Some diligently search for the latest information; others simply look to tail the picks of popular betting personalities and discuss the action as the games play out. Even sophisticated betting syndicates rely heavily on Twitter.

Right Angle Sports (RAS) is one of the most influential betting syndicates in the American market. It comprises 10 handicappers located in different areas of the country. As part of their handicapping routine, they closely monitor social media for news, and when RAS bets, lines move instantly and often dramatically at sportsbooks around the world. Some of those line-moving bets can be sparked in part by, of all things, an emoji posted by a player on Twitter.

"One of the strangest skills that we've acquired as a team in recent years is deciphering emojis," RAS's Edward Golden, who prefers to go by just Edward, told ESPN. "I can't tell you how many times per month one of our team members will post a player tweet and it's just an emoji. It could be one of those flushed face emojis. Or a brain exploding emoji. Or a blue heart. But whatever it is, the emojis mean different things coming from different players. We'll have times where a WNBA player, for instance, will post nothing but one of those anger faces. And you start thinking, 'Oh, man, is she out? Did she get injured?' And then someone on our team will say, 'Nah, she does that all the time. She's probably just complaining about a flight getting delayed.'"

Needless to say, a lot more goes into RAS bets than emoji translations. RAS handicappers are quick to spot -- and evaluate -- impactful news items, although Edward says these days information regularly appears to hit the betting market before it lands on Twitter. But social media remains a valuable tool for RAS, just not in the way one might think.

"Every current team member -- every single one -- we found online through some form of social media," Edward said. "Back in the day, you'd find undiscovered talent on betting forums and chat rooms. These days, it's all on Twitter.

"There's so many obscure or undercapitalized originators who are putting out great work, who clearly have an edge, and, yet, nobody knows who they are, despite their obvious potential," he added. "We are always searching for that person. Always. We've been lucky enough to hire some serious talent using Twitter and have seen people grow into integral parts of our team while making us better."

Sports betting is among the top growth areas on Twitter, increasing by 300% over the past four years and making it comparable to rising categories like cryptocurrency and NFTs, according to Dupree.

"[Sports betting] might not have the overall and history and scale because it's more of a recent phenomenon, but we've seen sports betting conversation very much mirror that hyper growth over the past couple of years," Dupree said.

The explosion in popularity of sports betting on Twitter coincides with the widespread expansion of legal sportsbooks in the United States. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states could choose to authorize sports betting. Since the decision, 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have launched legal betting markets. More than $147 billion has been bet with legal sportsbooks in the U.S. over the last four years, generating nearly $10.6 billion in taxable revenue, according to the American Gaming Association.

Sportsbooks are harnessing Twitter's influence for marking purposes, building large followings by showcasing improbable parlays that hit and advertising special deals for bettors like odds boosts. The sportsbooks also use their partnerships with professional sports leagues like Major League Baseball and the NBA to post highlights with a betting spin. FanDuel's sportsbook account @FDSportsbook has more than 214,000 followers; DraftKings' @DKSportsbook has more than 158,000 followers.

"Countless sports fans and bettors are avidly researching and interacting in real time on Twitter, which underscores the platform's effectiveness for customer growth and retention strategies at DraftKings," Stephanie Sherman, chief marketing officer at DraftKings, said.

Twitter's study found the most popular type of wager was against the spread, followed by parlays and money-line bets. Bettors surveyed said odds boosts -- where sportsbooks offer enhanced odds on specific bets -- and the fear of missing out on a bet that everyone is discussing were motivating factors when deciding to bet.

"Twitter's been referred to as the world's largest sports bar. You want to share in the excitement with fellow fans," Dupree said. "Well, you can almost consider that Twitter is becoming the world's largest sportsbook, not in terms of taking bets, but where people come to talk about the action and follow their bets."