Will Niche Betting Sports Still Have A Place When Major Sports Return?

Games like table tennis and eSports are keeping sportsbooks going during the coronavirus shutdown, but the operators won't need them forever.

With no NBA, MLB, NHL, or NCAA sports to wager on, a variety of sports and leagues traditionally far off the bettor’s radar, including some games that arguably shouldn’t even be called “sports,” have gained attention the last couple of weeks.

From chess to table tennis to eSports, sportsbooks have stretched — with permission from state gaming commissions — to present customers with betting options. If you know more than the average bear about Belarusian Extraleague hockey, this is your time to shine.

The question for those who have developed a liking for betting on ping-pong, Indian Premier League Cricket, etc., is whether these markets will remain available when the major sports return. Whenever that time comes, sportsbooks won’t feel the same need to post lines on these sports that they do now.

Approval required in some states

It all starts with being permitted to take wagers on these off-brand sports and leagues, and that’s something that varies from state to state.

Take the two leading sports betting states, Nevada and New Jersey.

A spokesperson for the Nevada Gaming Control Board told US Bets, “Sports do not need approval provided the sporting event is not amateur as defined in Reg 22.010 (2), has a governing body as defined in Reg 22.010 (10), and the outcomes are reported in newspapers of general circulation or in official, public records maintained by the appropriate league or other governing body.”

In other words, sportsbooks in Nevada have always been allowed to take bets on minor sports without a NGCB sign-off. However, “The Nevada Gaming Control Board does not consider eSports as a sporting event,” the spokesperson clarified, “therefore, licensees must submit a Reg 22.1201 Other Event application to our agency for review/approval before it can be offered for wagering purposes.”

In New Jersey, on the other hand, each new sport has to be approved on a case-by-case basis. The Garden State conditionally approved wagers on 13 additional leagues/sports in March, and set a time limit on those approvals.

“The sports recently approved by the Division [of Gaming Enforcement] are currently approved through the end of April,” said Leland Moore, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General.

Action begets action

So what happens at the end of April?

“Operators can request extensions of those approvals,” Moore said, “and the Division will consider those requests as they come in.”

To a large extent, whether, say, table tennis will be available for betting this time next year depends on whether sportsbooks care enough about it to offer it. And that, as you might guess, depends on whether they sense interest from consumers.

“For any sport like table tennis that was recently added by regulators,” FanDuel Director of Publicity Kevin Hennessy told US Bets, “we will evaluate the interest it has from our customers as the key metric for bringing it back full time, if it becomes an approved market.”

The best guess here is that, with major sports not returning by May 1, we will see sportsbooks continue to want to offer whatever marginal sports they can, and we will see commissions allow whatever they allowed in March and April.

Projections for fall and beyond

Further down the road, it gets interesting. Let’s say it’s September and the NFL and college football are both up and running, as is MLB, and there’s a slew of delayed golf and tennis majors, a deluge of boxing and MMA fights, and maybe even the tail end of pushed-back NBA and NHL postseasons. Perhaps that’s optimistic from a COVID-19 control perspective, but let’s use it as a hypothetical.

Can you imagine bookmakers taking the time to set table tennis or eSports lines for the relatively small handful of bettors who are interested?

In a state like New Jersey, it’s essentially a three-step process: The public has to show significant desire to bet the sport or league; the sportsbook has to express interest to the commission; the commission has to grant approval.

It’s easier in a state like Nevada, where the third step is a given, provided the “sport” in question fits the criteria.

Still, in either case, it comes down to whether it’s worth the time and effort for the bookmaker.

Under the everything-at-once sports scenario outlined above, that seems unlikely. So like what the scientists are telling us about this coronavirus, we don’t know how long betting on these unusual sports will last, but eventually, it will go away.

Photo by Stefan Holm / Shutterstock.com


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