UK Set for Ascot/World Cup Betting Bonanza

With UK sports fans likely to bet £500m ($660m) on this week’s major sporting events, we ask what this implies about the potential size of the online sports betting market in the US.

As I start writing this article, it is less than an hour to the first race at Royal Ascot – the highlight of the flat racing season in the UK. Last night, England beat Tunisia 2-1 to take a very big step towards qualification for the last 16 of the World Cup.

The nation’s sports fans are glued to their televisions and – if the bookmakers are to be believed – they’re having plenty of bets on what they’re watching. According to one bookie, the UK could bet £500m ($660m) this week.

“Every four years, the collision between Royal Ascot and the World Cup results in one of the biggest betting weeks of the year,” said Alan Alger, Betway’s head of PR. “But this year could be extra special, with England games kicking off and closing Royal Ascot week, we could see half a billion pounds bet in seven days.”

Betway is predicting that £40m ($53m) will be wagered every day at Ascot, making a total of £200m ($264m) over the five days, with betting on the England games – plus all the other World Cup games – taking the figure up to the magic half a billion pounds.

Bookies off to bad start

With England winning last night, the week got off to a bad start for the bookmakers, especially as plenty of punters would have backed Harry Kane, England’s captain, to score the first goal at the generally available 5-to-2. If the favorites go in today at Ascot, then the bookmakers could spend the week playing catch up.

… But they’ll have plenty of chances to do it. England’s win means that they are almost certainly through to the last 16, where they will probably play the winners of Group H – likely to be Colombia or Poland and far from the most testing game they could have had. With Germany now looking likely to face favorites Brazil in the last 16, there are going to be some high-profile games which are likely to attract significant bets. With the Wimbledon tennis tournament starting in the first week of July and the World Cup not finishing until mid-July, the betting bonanza in the UK could well be set to continue through the summer. And then it all begins again when the Premier League season kicks off on August 11…

Implications for US?

£500m ($660m) of bets in a single week in the UK is an impressive figure – but with online sports betting set to be legalized in most states in the US, can we draw any conclusions as to how big the size of the market will be there?

Right now, any figures quoted cannot be anything but a “best guess”, but it is my opinion that early estimates of $30bn (£22.7bn) are going to be a long way wide of the mark. I’d also go so far as to suggest that the £500m estimate for this week in the UK will be an underestimate.

As I am writing, nearly £1m ($1.32m) has been traded on betting exchange Betfair on the first race at Royal Ascot. By the time the race starts, the figure is likely to be three or four times that. Multiply by six races, add all the online sports betting companies – there are 24 quoted on Oddschecker alone – and you are well on the way to exceeding the £40m a day figure.

… And where the UK has Royal Ascot, the US has the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA playoffs, and March Madness in college basketball. In short, the US is not a nation that is short of “special” sporting events. The end-of-season play-offs could well have been designed to keep betting interest alive right through to the end of the season. Throw in a population of 325 million people and the wall-to-wall ads that the online sports betting companies will undoubtedly use to announce their presence, and I think that the figure of $30bn will prove to be a serious underestimate.

I’m so sure that I’d bet on it…

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