Sports Betting Integrity Issues Have Been Gendered But That Could Change

Written By Derek Helling on December 22, 2023 - Last Updated on February 16, 2024
Women's Sports Integrity

High-profile issues related to people placing improper bets continue to come to light. So far, they have all had one thing in common besides the impermissible wagering; every time, the person or people involved have been men.

Furthermore, in all the instances of notable impermissible wagering, the sports involved have been men’s sports. With the ongoing rise of women’s sports as a commercial product, there are several questions about whether the same issue exists in women’s sports to the same extent.

Some data suggests that at least to date, improper betting has not been as much of a problem around women’s sports and for women connected to high-level sports. There are some opinions as to why, to date, it seems to be a gendered issue.

Monitoring of women’s sports ongoing

It isn’t difficult to find a recent example of men placing impermissible wagers on men’s sports they have a tangible connection to. The NFL has suspended multiple players for breaking gambling rules. In October, the NHL suspended player Shane Pinto for similar violations.

Comparatively, such issues have been absent in women’s sports. Additionally, people connected to men’s sports whose gender is anything but a cisgender man have not been implicated in similar scandals recently.

One potential but erroneous perception around the disparity in integrity issues around men’s versus women’s sports is that illicit activity is happening connected to women’s sports but monitoring isn’t ongoing at the same level. In simpler language, people are placing bets they shouldn’t, but aren’t getting caught.

U.S. Integrity President & CEO Matthew Holt said that is not the case. U.S. Integrity provides the same monitoring for many high-profile women’s sports. Those include:

  • the LPGA
  • NCAA basketball, soccer, softball, and volleyball
  • United States Women’s National Team soccer matches
  • the WNBA
  • the WTA

In addition, U.S. Integrity provides the same level of monitoring for women’s bouts in mixed martial arts that it does for men’s competitions.

That monitoring has turned up comparatively few alerts regarding suspicious wagering activity or other integrity concerns related to these events. U.S. Integrity has issued such alerts at a ratio of almost 18 to 1 in terms of being related to men’s versus women’s sports since the beginning of 2022.

There are several possibilities behind that discrepancy. How regulated sportsbooks in the United States offer action on men’s versus women’s sports plays a role.

Markets limit liabilities for women’s sports

Call up markets on an average NBA and WNBA game at a legal US sportsbook and some disparities will become apparent. Among those is that the prop menu for NBA games is substantially larger than what you’ll normally find on a WNBA contest.

That points to a potential explanation for the discrepancy in integrity issues. Holt says he doesn’t believe anything is inherent about the nature of women’s sports that makes them better protected from integrity issues.

Rather, part of the reason for the difference is in how books treat the sports.

“I think there are just significantly less women’s events available to wager on,” Holt commented. “The ratio of alerts compared to available events is somewhat similar for both men’s and women’s sports. One factor to consider is that many women’s sports do not yet have the same liquidity as the men’s sports. Thus, the sportsbooks tend to offer much lower wagering limits. This is a deterrent to potential match fixers and nefarious actors as they cannot get as much cash down. Thus, it’s sometimes not worth the effort.”

While it’s possible to see the relative lack of betting markets on women’s sports as a negative due to a larger menu of markets possibly driving more bettor interest, there’s an upside to the status quo. As Holt explained, fewer markets and lower limits discourage improper betting.

Sports betting integrity isn’t as clearly gendered as sports are, however. Both men’s and women’s sports involve people of diverse genders. The factors that help insulate women’s sports against potential integrity issues work against men’s sports in the same way. Cultural differences could play into why people of other genders have, so far, not fallen victim to the pitfalls of impermissible wagering to the same extent as men.

Potential factors in the improper betting gender disparity

The presence of people of diverse genders in men’s sports is currently unprecedented. Many people who are not men now work as coaches and general managers of sports organizations that employ men as athletes and officiate such contests.

Despite that increased presence, it seems that to date, people who are not men in these roles have not yet fallen victim to pressures to wager improperly. Dr. Katie Lever, who studied sports policy to earn her doctorate degree, said there are possible factors behind this disparity.

“Women’s participation and representation in sports is surging, which is great, but sexism absolutely still happens and it impacts the extent to which we engage in the sports industry,” Lever said. “This can include gambling, which is one of the reasons I think women are less likely to bet on sports generally. A small example of how sexism impacts the way women engage in sports is that many women don’t feel safe at sporting events — almost a quarter to be more precise, and 55% of women sports fans prefer to watch the games at home for this reason. This isn’t a direct comparison to sports betting since you don’t have to be physically present to gamble these days but it illustrates why women are underrepresented in the sports industry at large. If women don’t feel particularly safe at games, they likely won’t feel safe in adjacent areas of the sports industry, like sports gambling, and will be less likely to partake. This works in women’s favor in this case since nobody wants to get caught breaking the rules but it points to a larger problem in sports where women are often dismissed, harassed, or treated as outsiders. This, in turn, leads fewer women to pursue careers as coaches or athletes. Also, the gender pay gap also doesn’t help. From a more general gender norm perspective, women are often taught as girls to be submissive, quiet, and obedient, which also might explain why more women aren’t breaking rules in sports betting.”

Recent progress on diminishing gender stratification in society could also aid women in these roles according to Lever.

“Women are also increasingly becoming more educated and financially independent which is my more optimistic take on why female athletes and coaches are less likely to break these rules,” Lever added. “It’s possible they don’t want to risk all of that hard work. But the wage gap is also apparent, so it’s possible that women have more to lose if they gamble, particularly if they get caught gambling illegally or in violation with employment codes. Men also engage in risky behavior — which includes gambling — more frequently than women so it could just be that more men gamble than women so they’re more likely to break the rules because of proportionality. There are multiple possibilities here.”

While those aspects don’t address why men working in women’s sports have also avoided improper betting issues to date, the lack of opportunity to profit in such a situation that Holt discussed does provide some insight there. Overall, it’s a question of how society frames not only women in general but also women’s sports.

The question then becomes whether the increasing commercialization of women’s sports is actually a negative in terms of gambling and integrity. That becomes a question of in what way sportsbooks will be part of that rapid growth.

Could the growth of women’s sports affect integrity?

According to David K. Li of NBC News, Deloitte forecasts that women’s sports globally will take in over a billion dollars in revenue for the first time in 2024. While that means better financial opportunities for everyone involved, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a greater variety of betting opportunities.

Demand for more disparate and frequent markets for women’s sports could increase. However, sportsbooks may not meet that demand in a timely fashion. In order to offer such action, the books would need to feel confident about their positions in those markets.

It may take time for some books to build up their expertise and models for certain women’s sports to that level. On a longer-term basis, though, equality in the amount and quality of markets for men’s and women’s sports could become more realistic.

To avoid the issues that some men’s sports are facing, it’s crucial for governing bodies of such sports to provide concise education to people who could face such issues now. Athletes, coaches, front office staff, officials, trainers, etc. must understand exactly what the rules are.

Furthermore, these people must understand why protecting the integrity of competitions is so paramount. In short, it has to do with guarding the blood, sweat, and tears that people working in women’s sports over decades have wrought bringing the sports to the point of grossing over $1 billion in a year.

As Holt pointed out, “the ratio of alerts compared to available events is somewhat similar for both men and women” to date. The time for people of all genders in women’s sports to proactively address the issue is now while the opportunities for something to go wrong are relatively limited.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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