Obscure leagues and sports are seeing an uptick in attention in the sports world, but there are challenges in offering more for eager bettors.
Major sports betting operators are at the mercy of regulators, which have tight restrictions, while other, more nimble operators are finding a way to make some positives in an otherwise hectic time.
PointsBet – which operates in New Jersey, Indiana, and Iowa – is still offering Belarusian soccer, UFC, NFL free agency prop bets, and futures, as well as Australian rugby, football, and soccer.
The company also is looking at a variety of other options, such as esports, chess and snooker, Patrick Eichner, director of communication at PointsBet, said.
However, he notes, there is a wrinkle that will likely keep things like marble racing and reality TV out of regulator betting sites.
“A lot of them don’t have a long enough sample size and no national governing body to sanction it,” Eichner said. “We lobbied to get some entertainment-style markets up, betting on reality TV, but it’s hard and entirely understandable to not be able to allow those. It’s pretaped events and people are in the know, so you can’t guarantee the integrity of it, unlike NBA or NHL games.”
Esports betting is likely to come in New Jersey, but for now, the betting on the industry is forbidden through constitutional language in Indiana and Iowa.
The Washington Post reported William Hill’s business was 20% of its normal volume on Saturday.
Peer-to-peer sports betting operator ZenSports has seen betting activity grow from $160,000 last July to $2.5 million in February, CEO Mark Thomas said. ZenSports is currently not operating in the U.S. but is working on licensing – as well as the necessary physical location partnerships – and plans to be in some states by the end of the year.
But activity has largely come to a halt for ZenSports, with all but the Australian A-League and Russian Premier League soccer halted in its portfolio of options. Thomas said that the company is putting a priority on adding new sports, including esports, rugby, and cricket.
“For us, esports will be at the top of the list – that is actually a burgeoning and growing industry and wagering on that is the closest thing to actual sports, and I don’t think Millennials and Gen Z feel it’s weird or odd,” Thomas said. “The normal bettors will bet on esports too if they look like this is a temporary thing, and when you see NBA players tweeting their 2K results and almost treating it like their real games they’re playing in, almost a correlation like it’s real.”
Outside of licensed betting operators, WagerLab is an app that facilitates user-to-user bets with no money exchanged through the app. Founder William Lebanowski said that’s providing more flexibility in what gets bet on through the app, although he said someday he hopes to be licensed – he currently doesn’t make money through the endeavor- and the bets don’t have to be monetary.
With the flexibility, Lebanowski said he’s seen users start betting on areas of life outside of sports, like where coronavirus will spread, speed up or die down, or which outcomes are likely on reality TV shows.
“As long as each bet is accepted by both parties, we can put prop bets and entertainment bets,” Lebanowski said.
With sportsbooks having little to offer, Lebanowski said it’s likely helped fuel his recent 400% week-over-week growth.
While the short-term inactivity will hurt betting operators, it’s also providing some valuable insight, Eichner said.
“It’s fair to say we’re probably getting the opportunity to get cooking on projects that we wouldn’t have the chance to address until the dog days of baseball in August,” he said. “It took the busiest time of the year and threw in the ultimate of all curveballs. This situation is probably improving the relationship with the regulatory bodies, with both parties being creative and we know today better than four days ago what helps them get things approved quickly and what information they need if it’s a good add.”