For months, the legalized sports betting world has gone without major American sports.
No basketball. No baseball. No hockey. And obviously football remains in its offseason.
The expectation was that regulated wagering would take a hit. It certainly did, but not nearly as much as anticipated.
The “other” sports, as they’re often listed in monthly state revenue reports, picked up the slack. They shouldered the load to keep some state industries afloat. And in some cases, those niche sports provided eye-opening figures.
Why such interest in these “other” sports? Edward Moed, CEO of HPL Digital Sports, said it best during the 2020 SBC Digital Summit North America:
“Bettors want to bet.”
Have they ever during the past three months.
Summer of minor sports betting
To be clear, as Betfred USA Sports COO Bryan Bennett noted, the betting on niche sports has been “nothing compared” with major sports betting.
He added, though, that this football season — should it play out as planned — should be “most competitive” for operators.
Bennett did say that Betfred has experienced a massive increase in MMA betting, while NASCAR and golf wagering have also peaked, as they have at many sportsbooks — not necessarily because the public likes these sports, but more to fill a void.
“People want to bet on sports they know,” Bennett said. “They don’t necessarily want to bet on Ukranian table tennis. They do it more out of necessity.”
All four panelists expressed optimism about major sports returning to action soon. Three (MLB, NHL, NBA) expect to do so by month’s end. And Paris Smith, CEO of Pinnacle, pointed out the significance.
“I think sports are going to come back, and we’re just going to become better businesses because of this.”
So what did people bet on by state?
Each state features its own unique sports betting industry, obviously, each shaped by different regulatory frameworks.
That said, all across the country, similar trends appeared.
Few details are available regarding total money wagered on specific sports in New Jersey. Regulators, however, provide “completed events” handle by category for the year.
In the state’s sports betting revenue report for June, the “other” category (reserved for these niche sports) spiked by $125.8 million from the total in May.
In New Jersey, “other” basically includes any sports outside of the football, baseball and basketball. So the likes of motor sports, golf and UFC fall into this category, as well as ever-popular table tennis.
The Hoosier State already showed signs of betting interest slipping in “other” sports.
After wagering more than $30 million on this category in May, Indiana sports betting saw a drop to $20 million last month.
Certainly, other states will see a similar fall if they haven’t already. After all, the controversy surrounding international table tennis forced many regulatory bodies to prohibit betting on the sport.
Of course, interest simply could be waning. Remember what Bennett said: “People want to bet on sports they know.” Curiosity likely drew bettors in; now they’ve lost interest.
As a state that actually offers more detailed reports, Colorado provides an example of a nationwide trend in betting this summer.
The first month of legalized sports betting in the Centennial State happened to also be its first full month. In May, bettors combined to wager $25.6 million, a decent sum considering all major sports were sidelined by then.
The “other” category, which actually does not include the usual lineup of niche sports, attracted 31% of bets that month. Table tennis accounted for the second-most wagers placed at 25.7%. The first major sport (baseball) ranked fifth behind parlay bets and MMA. After soccer, golf, tennis and motor sports, pro football rounded out the top 10 most popular sports.
The westernmost state with legalized sports betting, Oregon also offers some telling details.
As expected, total wagers placed through the Oregon Lottery Scoreboard app plummeted from 775,825 in February to 139,627 in April before rising a bit to 223,325 bets in May.
Sports that could be classified as “other” (such as table tennis, MMA, golf and motor sports) increased from 4.68% of wagers in February to 70.79% in April. From February to March alone, total wagers on table tennis rose from 22,781 to 89,786.
By May, more mainstream, though still “other” classified, sports returned. As a result, bettors shifted their attention.
Just shy of 51,000 bets were placed on MMA events that month (up from 487 in April), while golf accounted for 16,541 wagers (up from 381). With the return of NASCAR, betting on motorsports increased to 11,138 wagers in May after only 478 bets were made the previous month.
Table tennis interest persisted in May, as nearly 77,000 wagers were made on the sport.
No doubt, most — if not all — of these “other” sports will see massive declines once major sports make their way back. For now, though, they have their time in the limelight.