Europeans love to bet on tennis. Will US players ever follow suit?

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Something funny happened during the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic. When the vast majority of major sports stopped playing for long periods of time, a semi-professional table tennis league, the Russian League Pro, broadcast games around the clock. They attracted millions of dollars in bets from bettors who were bored and desperate to gamble on something.

American gamers weren’t immune to this unlikely Soviet sensation, but common wisdom dictated that the frenzy would subside significantly once the bigger sports came back online. Oddly enough, that never happened – especially in Colorado.

“Although major sports have returned for some reason, table tennis is still held in high status in Colorado,” said Ryan Rodenberg, Florida State University associate professor who specializes in sports law. “Some fans must have found it attractive during the shutdown when there was nothing else to bet on and stuck with it. There were only a few people playing table tennis 24 hours a day, but there was always content. “

Actual tennis – the kind played on the courts rather than the tables – is huge in Europe and ranks in markets outside the UK where horse races fetch a nicer penny, just below football and basketball. But it’s hard to get a foothold in the US sports game market, which has top-tier professional and college football, as well as other major team sports, and which hasn’t had a single-player marquee in ages.

“Tennis betting is almost entirely about the majors,” said John Murray, executive director of sports betting for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas. “For tennis to really take off, you need a great American superstar, like golf did with Tiger Woods. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi – you would probably have to go back 20 years. If you could come back to this it would surely be great for business. People seem to see more and bet when that happens. “

Currently, 23-year-old Taylor Fritz is the top-ranked American in 31st place (Image Credit: USA Today Sports)

Tennis betting makes up only 1% of Westgate’s total sports business. If you think that is bad, Baldini’s Casino in northern Nevada only rings a quarter of a percent. The man who runs the sports betting there, Robert Kowalski, said it would be “a win” if tennis were to increase to a full 1%.

“There’s just not that much interest in the weekly events,” said Kowalski. “[Bettors will] Check out the majors and even then it’s a real fight. Is it the fact that it’s not a team sport? Is it the fact that the on-site events start at 3am? You just don’t know the players that well? “

But as Kowalski and others see, the increasing popularity of mobile and in-game betting gives the sport room to grow.

“Sports in general, people bet more in the game than they did before the game,” he said. “Every point, how many mistakes – there are so many ways to bet.”

“I look at the popularity that table tennis appears to have in the Colorado market after the major sports failure, and see that the tennis product is capable of accommodating this growing interest in a point-by-point live betting experience leverage, “he said to Matthew Trenhaile, a London-based betting industry analyst. “It’s a great live betting sport. As the market sees more live betting I think there will be a natural pull on it. There are a large number of games in a variety of time zones, so most apps should be able to host a tennis match for much of the day. “

Ep: 134 – High Volume Bookmaking and Betting with Matthew Trenhaile

– Pricing nuances in a “Pinnacle” model
– Absorption of your advantage by the market
– Betting opportunities

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– Betting PODCAST (@BettingPod) May 18, 2020

Trenhaile admitted, however, that challenges lie ahead.

“Serena really only had US tennis [Williams] As an outstanding player and personality to push the dedication for a long time and it would benefit from more top players with a strong social media presence, “he said.

Another hurdle: the reputation of tennis as a sport that is easy to fix. Westgate’s Murray puts it this way: “Any sport with a single athlete is easier to throw than a team sport. Tennis is the easiest sport to repair as a player can simply start the game and say they can’t go on and only one player is involved. “

How this type of situation is handled differs from sports betting to sports betting. Westgate requires that a match is actually completed or all bets will be void. However, other books have lower thresholds, e.g. For example, if a player withdraws from a game prematurely, only one sentence needs to be filled in for bets to be paid out.

Suspicious activity in pre-game betting pools can also indicate that a game may not be on the up. For example, in 2016 Pinnacle Sports suspended mixed doubles bets in the first round of the Australian Open when a duo who won 6-0, 6-3 received a particularly large amount of money first set only lasts 20 minutes. And a 2016 BBC investigation found that 16 players were reported in the top 50 for suspected match-throwing within a decade.

The problem is worse in the small leagues of the sport. Unlike baseball, where every athlete is guaranteed a modest salary, thousands of professional players on the World Tennis Tour and other lower rung circuits struggle to make up for their quixotic quest to be wiped off in a first-round game with only one thing Day Novak Djokovic.

“Anyone who’s not at the ATP Tour level on the men’s tennis side can make more money fixing a match on a small level than you get paid to do, and a lot of the guys who are on that part Finding Your Way On Tour, they have a hard time making ends meet with tournament wins, ”said Drew Dinsick, NBC Sports Edge sports betting analyst and tennis enthusiast who lives in Long Beach, California. You pay coaches, you stay in hotels. It’s a pretty expensive sport if you don’t come from a wealthy family, so I understand why [match-fixing] happens.”

The integrity problems of tennis became so pronounced that the governing bodies of the sport, including the International Tennis Federation (ITF), commissioned an independent body to identify ways to reduce crooked play. The panel’s recommendations for 2018 included a ban on the sale of official data on the Lowly Futures Tour in order to prevent gambling in such games.

However, Dinsick believes the sport has “done a pretty good job” of policing shameful behavior among its lower echelons – and he’s not alone.

“The vast majority of tennis at this level is played absolutely right, and trying to take a prohibitive approach is not the right answer,” said David Lampitt, director of sports partnerships at Sportradar, a leading provider of sports data. “It is far better to ensure that the market is adequately controlled and monitored than to say that we are going to stop betting. That could slide [wagering] into the shadows and create a black market. “

“Bookmakers report every conceivable integrity problem they have,” said Trenhaile. “Personally, I think that these bodies (ITF, ATP, WTA, etc.) have only reacted slowly to this data. Bookmakers now routinely keep lists of players they no longer offer odds for, but I think organizations should take more drastic and quicker action. “

“I believe players should have access to real-time data and betting on lower-level circuits should be allowed for a number of reasons,” he added. “First, betting encourages engagement and interest in the sport. Fans bet on sports and the weather turns into fans. Since the TV contract numbers for everyone but the highest level of sport are stalling, more sources of income must also be switched online for the benefit of all who practice a sport. Data is that new revenue streams and betting companies know these are great products that fans want to interact with.

“My bigger concern is that the revenue from lower-level circuit data does not translate into funding for base projects or larger prizes at that level. Lots of people make good money on ITF data, for example, and more of that money needs to make sure that being a professional tennis player is a more economically profitable career at the lower levels. “

Integrity issues aside, tennis is a sport that inherently offers a wide variety of in-game betting options, which, as Kowalski noted, sports betting is generally geared towards.

“It’s the ideal sport for in-game betting,” said Dinsick. “Compare it to something like soccer. You get a goal every 30 minutes [in tennis] You’ll swing five, ten, 20 times in the game depending on whether it’s the best of three or the best of five. There are far more opportunities to buy and sell in tennis than in any other sport, except maybe in the NBA. “

Sebastian Korda from the USA plays in Miami against Andrey Rublev from Russia (Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Dinsick believes that prop betting – how many aces a match will have or which player will win the next point – “are great ways to get people involved,” but he would also like to see odds makers play the long game and futures – Offer pools with aspiring players.

“There really is no way you can have a long-term position with a player if he is developing and winning,” he said. “It would be really worth it if you could invest in a player – if you were dragging the field [ATP] Challenger level and said “this guy is going to be great” and you might shop and sell when you think he has peaked. This type of buy-low and sell-high over an extended period of time would be huge when it comes to bringing player fandom and gambling into the same boat. “

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