As legal sports betting spreads through the United States, there’s a major market sportsbooks might be missing out on: women. A new study from marketing agency Hot Paper Lantern found that one-third of bettors in the U.S. are women, an underserved consumer group ripe for growth.
The number was higher than many industry insiders interviewed by Sportico expected, but data from the American Gaming Association supports these conclusions: In 2019, the organization found 32% of past-year sports bettors were women.
Dr. Laila Mintas, CEO of Australian sportsbook PlayUp’s U.S. operations, said this presents a massive opportunity for the industry.
“I strongly believe it’s a totally unserved and untapped market,” Mintas said in an interview. “Almost 50% of all sports fans are female, so then why don’t more [women] make that last step to actually bet on sports? In the U.S., everybody is doing copy-and-paste at the moment. All the different sports betting offerings look the same. Even starting with the display and the colors—it’s all very similar. It’s very dark. It’s all very male-focused and the whole industry is male-driven.”
Most of the major U.S. sportsbooks Sportico reached out to have not yet done any analysis of their own female consumers. Mintas believes that understanding and nurturing the market of female bettors could bring the industry “very close to 50/50 [gender split] in terms of consumers. That’s how it should be, but it’s probably a very long way to get there.”
Gen Zers and Millennials are the most active of female bettors, with 27% and 28%, respectively, betting at least once a month, according to Hot Paper Lantern’s study. Older female participants overwhelmingly only wager during major sporting events like the Super Bowl, March Madness or the Kentucky Derby. While women on the whole don’t necessarily bet with the same frequency that their male counterparts do, the potential is there.
“This industry is moving so quickly,” said Ed Moed, CEO and co-founder of Hot Paper Lantern. “As it matures, different players will realize they have to have a focus to do well, and they’re going to see that women could be a key category. In every state, it’s a growing group. An audience this large cannot be ignored, but it kind of has been up to this point.”
Sports-betting business experts frequently compare their young industry to Uber, which started with a focus on flooding the market before using more targeted customer acquisition tactics. Similarly, sportsbooks are trying to rapidly establish a large market presence through flashy promotions. PointsBet’s “Early Sign Up Offer” for Virginia residents, for example, features a photo of NBA great Allen Iverson holding a bag of cash and offers “2 Risk-Free Bets up to $2,000” plus “$100 in free bets!” to users who sign up before the site goes live in the state.
The campaign uses messaging about making money, but interestingly, that’s not entirely why women bet on sports. Instead, Hot Paper Lantern’s study showed, women lean towards social betting. They tend to engage most often around significant social events to engage with their peers. They’re pretty good at it, too.
A 2020 study by 888 Holdings, which owns gambling brands including the online bookmaker 888sport, showed its New Jersey-based female bettors typically won more bets and made more money than their male peers. Women saw average returns of almost 20% on their sports wagers while men lost an average of almost 5%. The findings suggested a more strategic—and perhaps less emotional—approach to sports betting for women, who were also shown to bet less often, under-indexing when it came to betting volumes.
“The female demographic in the U.S. is sort of a big white space,” said Yaniv Sherman, head of U.S. and SVP at 888 Holdings. “Most of the operators out there are chasing market share, which means the lowest-hanging fruit, or mostly the more sophisticated male bettors.”
Sherman sees that strategy as riskier in the longer term, with operators becoming dependent on one customer group. A more diverse customer base, inclusive of women bettors, fosters a more sustainable and responsible gambling ecosystem, he said. The data affirmed his belief that U.S. women are an untapped market.
“The U.S. is special in the sense that women’s participation in actual sport is much higher,” Sherman said. “At the end of the day, sports betting rides on the shoulders of the actual sports experience and viewership. So we see the U.S. as a unique opportunity for growth because the starting point is a lot better than other markets or societies because of how high the interest from women in sports is.”
Sherman only sees reaching female bettors becoming harder as the overall market stabilizes.
“People will be turning around and wondering where they can get additional growth from,” he explained. “I’m absolutely certain that they’ll turn to the female demographics. The thing is, this isn’t a car switch. You can’t just paint everything purple and run a TV campaign and expect to get women to bet with you. That’s just science fiction.”