Smarkets targets US sports betting market after SIG cash injection

·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Smarkets founder and chief executive Jason Trost. Photo: Smarkets
Smarkets founder and chief executive Jason Trost. Photo: Smarkets

London sports betting startup Smarkets is gearing up for a major push into the US after raising funds from American trading giant SIG.

Susquehanna Growth Equity, an investment fund affiliated with SIG, has made a significant minority investment in Smarkets, Yahoo Finance UK can reveal. Exact terms of the deal couldn't be learned.

The investment marks the first time Smarkets has raised outside money since 2013. The business, which was founded in London in 2008, has been profitable since 2014.

Smarkets operates a betting exchange in the UK that lets people wager against each other in markets such as football and horse racing, as well as more esoteric areas like politics and current affairs. More recently, the company has launched a more traditional mass market sportsbook — SBK — that sits atop its betting exchange. 

Read more: FanDuel owner Flutter considers spin-out IPO

Smarkets has over 50,000 monthly active users and traded £3.8bn ($5.3bn) in bets on its platform last year.

Jason Trost, Smarkets' founder and chief executive, said the company had raised new funds to fuel a push into the US. A Supreme Court ruling in 2018 struck down federal laws that made sports betting illegal outside of Las Vegas and states have been in the process of deregulating ever since. The process has triggered a gold rush in the industry as both old and new players seek to capture market share.

"There’s no doubt it’s going to be a huge market and I think we have huge competitive advantages over the existing players that we’ve just scratched the surface on," Trost said. "For example, we own all of our own technology — that’s quite unique — and our pricing is industry shatteringly different than everybody else. We’ve just started to press our advantage on those two things and extra capital will help us do that."

Scott Feldman, a managing director at Susquehanna Growth Equity, said his firm were attracted to Smarkets because of its focus on technology. SIG, the fund's parent company, is a US quant trading and market making firm with billions in assets.

Smarkets betting interface. Photo: Smarkets
Smarkets betting interface. Photo: Smarkets

Trost worked as a stock trader before founding Smarkets and has always emphasised the parallels between betting markets and financial markets. Smarkets' interface looks closer to a Bloomberg terminal than a traditional bookies' website.

"Our hypothesis is that in 10 years this is going to be 100% a financial technology play and we’re excited that Susquehanna shares in that vision," he said.

"Susquehanna has been one of the more forward thinking firms in terms of sports betting and we’re super excited to partner with them."

Smarkets' SBK product is already live across parts of the US and Trost said the company would use the new investment to launch it into new markets. 

"It’s no secret that our competitors are spending hundreds of millions — if not billions collectively — on trying to acquire customers," he said. "We’re certainly not going to match them but we want to be in the mix and be creative about the marketing, so we need to spend a bunch on marketing."

Sports betting has long been legal in the UK and many US executives have been looking to Britain for expertise as the North American market deregulates. Last year Caesars Entertainment (CZR) bought UK bookmaker William Hill for £2.9bn and jackpot-joy owner Gamesys (GYS.L) has agreed a £2bn takeover by Bally's Corporation (BALY). MGM Resorts (MGM) mounted a £8.1bn bid for Ladbrokes owner Entain (ENT.L) at the start of this year but was rebuffed.

Read more: William Hill betting shops set for bidding war

Smarkets has had conversations with operators about deals," Trost said. "Pretty much any brand name in America is looking to bring their technology in house."

He said Smarkets wouldn't rule our partnerships but added: "I didn’t found it to make somebody's sportsbook technology in-house."

Trost said London would remain the "beating heart" of the company despite the US push. Smarkets employs around 85 people in the UK, with smaller offices in LA and Malta.

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