Refunding Sports Bets From Controversial Calls: Short-Term Gain, Long-Term Pain

Posted By Chops on January 22, 2019 - Last Updated on June 3, 2021

You’ve surely seen it by now. As the New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams NFC Championship game was coming to a frenetic close, Drew Brees threw a pass down the sideline intended for receiver Tommylee Lewis. Lewis was basically assaulted while the ball was in the air by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. It was as clear of a pass interference infraction as you’ll see—except the refs didn’t see it. The non-call likely cost the Saints the game and a trip to the Super Bowl.

It also cost many bettors a win and payout.

Unless you wagered on PointsBet.

PointsBet announced a “Good Karma Payout” program after the blown call. The company “will refund all wagers as bonus bets on New Orleans Saints spreads and money lines due to the highly controversial pass interference inside the final two minutes of the game.”

The announcement has been met with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism. The skeptics will note that the new market entrant likely had minimal handle and exposure, so they stood more to gain off the free press than what little they lost in refunds (fair point by the way, we’re covering it).

From a broader business standpoint, this opens a can of worms not just for PointsBet (and FanDuel, which already refunded Bears bettors after a missed field goal), but other operators. It’s a slippery slope. What qualifies for or are the parameters of a game-altering call? What happens to PointsBet the next time a “bad” call happens and they don’t want to refund wagers? Will they get as much backlash from that as goodwill from this?

The bottom line is this: part of the contract between a bettor and operator is the general understanding that shit happens. Refs will miss calls. Players will get hurt. It’s why they call it sports gambling. There’s risk. We all know that.

New Jersey is a cut-throat and competitive sports betting market. Pennsylvania mobile sports betting will soon be as well. Just wait until sports betting in New York and California launch. Anything to cut through the clutter could be seen as a positive, sure. But cutting through the clutter at the expense of the integrity of a wager or the poor precedence of resetting public expectation is not a good thing.

These types of publicity stunts seldom work long-term and set a poor expectation for the public. Whatever short-term positive bump PointsBet gets, they’ll lose the next time they decide something wasn’t worthy of a refund.

But hey, they got a Darren Rovell tweet out of it, so high-fives all around.

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Steve “Chops” Preiss has 15 years of experience in the gaming industry. Chops began writing and producing content for digital media sites during the early poker-boom years. He has twice been voted by his peers as one of the 20 Most Influential People in Poker. Chops has also written and produced segments for a primetime gaming TV show on Versus (now NBC Sports Network) and distributed a poker program to over 160M global households.

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