Women’s events are driving the majority of Olympic betting, according to data from gambling operator PointsBet. Roughly 60% of the betting action around the Tokyo Games, the company said, has been around women’s competitions. The trend stands in stark contrast to non-Olympic months, when men’s sports leagues like the NFL, NBA and MLB drive somewhere around 90% of the sportsbook’s handle.
In Tokyo, the only sport where men dominate the overall betting action is in five-on-five basketball, where NBA stars, including Kevin Durant, have carried Team USA to this weekend’s gold medal game. But as of Thursday afternoon, men’s hoops only made up about 26% of the Olympic betting handle so far. Meanwhile, the U.S. women’s soccer team drove the vast majority of the company’s Olympic soccer handle, to the tune of 85%. Roughly 95% of those soccer bets were placed on individual games, as opposed to wagering on the futures market or the odds of a particular team winning gold. Female stars like American swimmer Katie Ledecky have also single-handedly driven significant wagering, PointsBet said.
“It’s been great to see that flip from a men’s focus [to women’s],” Jay Croucher, head of trading for PointsBet, said in an interview. “This is the first Olympics since there’s been legalized online sports betting in the U.S. It’s probably good, in a way, that it’s happening in 2021, because people have a level of familiarity now that leads to betting on things like skateboarding, canoeing or rowing and absolutely enhances that viewing experience. People are used to betting on the NFL or NBA, but they’re now seeing so much Olympics coverage, and they’re able to bet on new sports, many of which [are] phenomenal betting sports.”
Croucher points to the exciting momentum swings in sports like rowing, swimming or track and field, which all come with a level of “instant fulfillment” for bettors, with results in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
While the time difference between most American bettors and the competitions taking place in Tokyo has resulted in shifts from live, in-play betting, which U.S. bettors tend to favor, to more pre-event wagering, betting activity around the Games has still been “strong,” per Croucher.
Croucher characterized the Olympic activity as a healthy stream of recreational bets with smaller stakes, but there has been enough to compete with wagering seen on Major League Baseball, which has continued its season stateside throughout the Games. Outside of basketball and soccer, rowing, swimming and track and field have driven much of the Olympic handle, finding themselves immensely popular among bettors, and increasingly so after upsets and tight races.
For example, wagers on Ledecky’s events spiked in the wake of her 400-meter freestyle upset at the hands of Australian rival Ariarne Titmus.
“That might have even triggered more people to bet on Ledecky because she was at bigger odds,” Croucher said. “After she lost to Titmus early, you were getting a better price on Ledecky, which led to more activity, but it also just created more of a storyline.”
Swimming, in general, was a popular wager. The men’s 100-meter freestyle was one of PointsBet’s biggest handle events of the whole Olympics. Team USA star Caeleb Dressel entered the event as the heavy favorite, but impressive qualifying times by contenders from Russia and Australia changed the odds and inspired more wagers. Dressel, however, ultimately set a new Olympic record.
Highly anticipated track and field showdowns, between stars like Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad, also saw significant gambling action.
The unpredictability of the Games and a lack of information available on many of the events and athletes—especially compared to a sport like the NFL—has made it a fruitful two weeks for PointsBet, which said it is making better margins on the Olympics than it typically would expect across all sports. While Croucher attributes some of that to an element of good fortune, he did say the operator is losing more on the niche sports that are more difficult to price.