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Analysis | A guide to the most popular sports betting apps – The Washington Post

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After mobile sports betting became legal in Virginia last year, one D.C. resident drove across state lines each fall Friday — sometimes stopping at a coffee shop, once parking outside the Pentagon — to wager on a weekend’s worth of football.
Fine, it was me — and with each trip across the bridge, I toured the world of betting apps to find the best lines, take advantage of promotions and see what it was like to get sucked into an emerging hobby. In hopes of extracting the most out of sign-up bonuses, I taste-tested the eight most prevalent apps in the country over the past year. While there are similarities to be found across the apps, some provide unique features and others present an enhanced user experience.
Sports betting is not for everyone, because an addiction can be serious and the financial risks severe. But it is clearly a burgeoning industry, as 21 states now offer it online and several more have passed bills legalizing it. Here is the lowdown on every app that is available in at least 10 states, examining their bet offerings, aesthetic appeal and other factors.
DraftKings is robust both in terms of its quantity of bets and the breadth of sports offered. It popularized a wager that allows customers to guess who will score the first touchdown in a game; and this year it plans to add another layer, allowing bettors to guess which player or players will score the first two touchdowns.
If you think that’s exotic, shield your eyes: With DraftKings, you can bet on almost anything within a sporting event.
At a Chicago Cubs game this summer, my friend stayed amused by repeatedly betting whether a pitch would be faster or slower than the speed DraftKings set as the line. I looked over his shoulder in awe — both at his borderline degenerate behavior and the impressive technology, which quickly updated its numbers between pitches.
DraftKings’ signature green color really pops on the dark background of its app, and the company’s pricing of bets is typically quite competitive compared to its industry peers.
As a high-profile company, DraftKings has been involved in a couple of publicized incidents related to payouts — including one in January, when it took a full day to settle prop bets made by gamblers who pounced on news about Draymond Green’s playing status. DraftKings eventually paid the rightful winners in the Green situation, but not before stirring up angst among some bettors.
My biggest gripe with DraftKings is that its sign-up offer is the worst of the bunch — not to mention misleading. The site boasts “Get a deposit bonus up to 1,000*” and that asterisk should require hazard lights: To reach that bonus, you’d need to wager $25,000 in 90 days.
FanDuel is the brightest, most aesthetically pleasing of all the apps. Its menus are logical and clean, and the design makes you feel like you’re playing a video game, as team logos, live game updates and betting lines all appear on a screen that somehow never looks cluttered. It’s also the fastest, which is especially important for live betting, when odds are constantly changing.
Another area where it boasts speed is in payouts. Each company promises to fulfill a PayPal withdrawal request within 24 or 48 hours; FanDuel took just 12 minutes to do so.
As for the bets themselves, FanDuel has plenty to offer and is the forefather of same-game parlays, which are now also popular on other sites. The company consistently features compelling promotions, some of which get creative. (If you place $50 or more on a team to win Super Bowl LVII, you get $5 back in free bets — up to $50 total — for every game the team wins in the regular season).
FanDuel makes its app fun to use, and the customers have followed. In New York, the biggest state with mobile sports betting, FanDuel has emerged as the leader.
Even after a recent redesign, BetMGM’s app is clunky. While everything on FanDuel is instant, you can feel BetMGM’s motors churning as you click from screen to screen.
It was also hit-or-miss last football season at triangulating my position to confirm I was at an approved location. (A customer service rep told me to download a geolocation app, which did not completely solve the problem.)
One thing you should know about all of these apps is that you will be legally tracked while using them. These sites are loaded with pieces of code that follow your every click, learn your habits and contribute to your online dossier. According to Blacklight, a tool provided by the investigative journalism nonprofit the Markup, BetMGM’s homepage has a whopping 32 ad trackers and 62 third-party cookies — most among all apps tested.
We’ll end on a positive note: BetMGM sometimes provides free bets to use however you wish. The Virginia Lottery charted promotion money handed out by each operator from January to May, and BetMGM was the most generous.
The benefit of a crowded marketplace is that it can persuade the books to offer competitive odds, lest customers bet elsewhere. Though other sites were stronger in other sports, Caesars had the best odds for NFL bets, according to a pricing analysis compiled by Action Network from January 2021 through April 2022.
Visually, the app is inoffensive and strikes the right notes with its bet slips. But its bet listings can be puzzling at times: If you want to bet an NFL team’s win total, you have to scroll through a randomly ordered list of 32 teams, whereas most of the other apps logically alphabetize the teams (DraftKings shares this issue).
The new user promo for a risk-free bet up to $1,250 is among the best but a step down from last year, when the company offered a risk-free bet up to $5,000. Caesars is the lone site with a $20 minimum withdrawal.
BetRivers and Sugarhouse are the same company but with a different name depending on where you reside.
Its product is adequate but uninspiring. It has a decent search function, and all of its sports are neatly listed across the top, but navigation isn’t as polished as on FanDuel or DraftKings. Much of the problem is that everything simply takes up too much visual space.
Though BetRivers offers a wealth of sports — jai alai anyone? — it doesn’t have as many wagering options within the major sports.
In the aforementioned pricing analysis by Action Network, BetRivers had the highest prices across the board.
The controversial sports media company has its own sportsbook, which debuted in Pennsylvania in 2020 and has expanded to 10 states. It is operated by Penn Entertainment, which runs several American racetracks and casinos.
While the Barstool blog is notoriously crude — both in design and content — the sportsbook is clean and professional. It is customizable and easy to navigate.
Another nice touch: After I contacted an agent with a question, the site offered to email me a chat transcript, which was helpful for documentation.
Barstool Sportsbook also has the fewest ad trackers among the eight listed here, according to Blacklight, but still lands right around the average among all popular websites. It is one of only two to allow payment via ApplePay, along with MGM. (Only DraftKings and FanDuel allow users to pay using Venmo.)
PointsBet has a unique feature: Its Points Betting option multiplies your winnings or losses depending on how decisively you win or lose the bet. When I predicted 49ers star Deebo Samuel would exceed 37 rushing yards in a playoff game against the Cowboys, and he finished with 72, my stake was multiplied by the difference (35). Thank you, Deebo, for the nice payday and venti-sized adrenaline rush.
Thrilling as it may be, the odds for points betting aren’t great, because the site inflates the normal lines once you decide to use that option. And the potential downside can be huge.
In general, PointsBet doesn’t have as many bets as some of the prominent books, but when I couldn’t find a particular bet, the site invited me to formally request one, which it then added.
While the app has nice search options, its white and red text on black background can give your eyes a workout.
Even with Shaquille O’Neal as a pitchman, WynnBet is a mere bench player in the industry (seventh in market share in New York, eighth in Virginia, ninth in Michigan). Perhaps that’s because it features limited props and few promotions. It does, however, offer reduced juice every Thursday evening — think of it as a sort of happy hour to lubricate your spending.
WynnBet has one of the cleanest app designs; while it lacks frills, it displays up to five games at once, which makes it easy to see the matchups as you scroll.
One drawback is that you must download a different app for each state. Others sportsbooks allow you to hop state to state on the same app.
Obviously, there is personal preference involved here, and users are limited to whichever sportsbooks are available in their respective states. But it’s instructive that the most popular apps are DraftKings and FanDuel, which are the most widely available sportsbooks (DraftKings is in 16 states, FanDuel in 15) and are used by more than half of regular bettors, according to a survey conducted in December by the Morning Consult. Each has hundreds of thousands of user ratings on the App Store, where each is rated 4.8 stars out of 5.
Personally, I prefer FanDuel. It is aesthetically pleasing, it keeps customers engaged with frequent promotions and it’s one of the smoothest to navigate. If you’re dabbling in sports betting for fun and don’t want the hassle of toggling between books, FanDuel will provide the most well-rounded experience.
But the truth is if you’re going to use any of these apps — and that decision deserves careful consideration — you should really use all of them. Take advantage of sign-up bonuses and promotions. Check the odds at each book so you can get the best of the number (Scores and Odds is a good resource for this).
You probably wouldn’t buy a TV for $500 if it were available for $400 at another store. It behooves you to shop lines the same way.
Illustration by Lily LK for The Washington Post.
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