The eight top-ranked bowlers on the PBA Tour will toss balls on June 22 down the slippery wood at Strikerz, a 16-lane alley located within the belly of the Angel of the Winds Casino in Arlington, Washington, about an hour’s drive from Seattle.
The four-day PBA Tour Finals will crown a champion on June 25, the second of two days on which the event will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, creating what would seem to be an ideal scenario for sports bettors to get a little action down to spice up the proceedings.
But while Angel of the Winds patrons will be able to do just that at the tribal casino’s IGT-powered retail sportsbook, BetRivers appears to be the only mobile sportsbook currently committed to accepting wagers on the event from its customers in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio.
With its simple format, rich history, and accessibility — any Joe or Jane Sixpack can roll a few frames while drinking their last name — bowling seems like an ideal sport for wagering, especially with the emphasis on year-round content and the rise of in-game betting. But while FOX Bet signaled its intent to put its weight behind PBA betting in 2020, it’s still not a regular offering — and PBA Commissioner Tom Clark is uncertain as to why.
“My only guess is they’ve underestimated the interest level and are making their own bet that time spent on other things might be more valuable,” he said. “But I think that, over time, people will come to see the value of the PBA. There’s an element of chance on every shot. A perfect shot can not-strike and a bad shot can.”
Speaking to the sport’s potential appeal to in-game bettors, Clark said, “It’s similar to golf, but I think it’s a lot faster. When you care who wins in bowling — and that’s been our main struggle forever is to develop personalities and stars — it is extremely fun and exciting to watch. So the more people who are wagering on it, the more people who are going to have a lot of excitement and fun watching.”
When asked by US Bets roughly a year ago why bowling markets weren’t more commonly available at sportsbooks, several operators pointed to lack of demand and data. But there are ways to create demand among bettors, and Clark’s a lot easier to reach than Roger Goodell should anyone be in need of a statistical breakdown.
Another difference between Goodell and Clark: Whereas the NFL commissioner wasn’t crazy about people betting on his sport until PASPA was struck down, the PBA has long taken the stance of “we want to be on the board,” as Clark put it.
‘The numbers make sense’ at BetRivers
Interestingly, Clark said that BetRivers, which has offered wagering on several PBA tournaments this year and shown a unique affinity for giving nostalgic niche sports like jai alai a try, has never been in contact with him. But that hasn’t seemed to matter.
“BetRivers has been putting everything on and their numbers are good,” Clark said. “In the past, when we have gotten on the board with William Hill or FOX Bet, they’ve taken the information mostly from me or the PBA website, and they’ve wanted information about formats, players, and past performance. But with BetRivers, I’ve never talked to anybody there. But somebody there understands bowling, because the numbers make sense.”
“We pride ourselves on having sport specialists trading all markets at BetRivers,” said Zachary Schlouch, BetRivers’ director of sportsbook operations. “In consultation with our sports wagering provider (Kambi), we’re always focusing on the depth and accuracy of the bets we’re offering. It’s certainly encouraging to see a prominent league like the PBA validate those efforts.”
Another difficulty cited by operators is that PBA wagering is difficult to pull off because so many of the association’s events aren’t televised in real time. That’s occasionally the case, said Clark, but hardly the norm.
“We’ve been 90 percent live on our events, so there have always been opportunities,” said Clark. “That hasn’t been a hurdle for us. It would be a hurdle for a bettor if, for whatever reason, that show was live and you couldn’t bet on it.”
That hurdle remains fairly significant, but it’s done nothing to dampen Clark’s optimism, particularly when it comes to June’s championship matches at Angel of the Winds. The casino is hosting the tournament — and offering wagering on it — for the second year in a row.
“A lot of these Native American casinos have bowling centers,” Clark said. “I could see a scenario where if more and more of these casinos pick up sports betting and you can wager and watch live, it could get to where jai alai was way back when.”
Photo of 2022 champion Jason Belmonte courtesy of the PBA