Betting on Sports: a Global Look



Betting on sports is a global phenomenon. The year 2018 was a landmark year for gambling in the United States due to the fact that the government repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which made it possible for individual states to decide whether to legalize sports betting. Seven states launched regulated sports betting, and more are likely to follow in 2019, especially when they see the results of their neighbors.

While betting on sports is a year-round for many Americans, one of the stand-out events is definitely March Madness, a US men’s basketball tournament at the collegiate level, run by the NCAA. Here is a quick recap from an article published in Slate: "we trace March Madness back to Illinois’ statewide high-school basketball tournament, which began in 1908. The article goes on to say explain that in 1939, an official with the Illinois High School Association, Henry V. Porter, penned an article called March Madness for the organization’s in-house magazine. “A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel,” he wrote. Three years later, he followed up with a poem, “Basketball Ides of March,” which read in part: “A sharp-shooting mite is king tonight/ The Madness of March is running.” The phrase was confined to Illinois high-school ball until 1982, when CBS broadcaster (and ex-Chicago Daily News sportswriter) Brent Musburger used it during his network’s NCAA tournament coverage.”   

This year March Madness is making even more headlines than usual, not because of superstar-to-be Zion Williamson, but because for the first time in college basketball NCAA Tournament history, legal sports betting in the US extended outside of the state of Nevada, bringing the event to another dimension.

The March Madness tournament bracket is more than a tradition in the US, with just about every group of friends and colleagues participating, in addition to the President, even if those bets were not legal and just a way to have fun during the tournament. The American Gaming Association (AGA) issued some figures that are quite simply out of this world: 47 million American’s will bet near U$S 8.5 billion on the NCAA Tournament, with one out of five US adults taking part.

Source: Sport Illustrated

A few weeks ago, Bill Miller, AGA’s president and CEO, made a clear statement about this trend: “During this year’s tournament […] sports fans are expected to bet 40% more than they did on this year’s Super Bowl”. We can argue that it’s difficult to make a comparison between one event and a whole tournament, but it still shows the gigantic amounts people will bet on a college tournament!


A European tradition

Europe has a long history of betting on sports. The first recorded bets date back more than 2,000 years ago. The Greeks’ passion for sports led them to introduce the Olympics to the world, accompanied by the earliest records of betting on sporting events. From the Greeks, betting on sports spread to ancient Rome where it was eventually accepted and even legalized.

The Asian share

On the other side of the world, Asia accounts for a big share of the betting industry. The good thing about the Asian sports betting market – particularly in Southeast Asia – is the fact that it is a relatively new space – at least on the legal side of things. The diversity and the regional sport tradition make this area even more exciting: the Philippines are more focused on boxing and basketball while India is very keen on cricket games. Hong Kong is the place to be for bets on horses, with the Hong Kong Jockey Club posting a record turnover of H$K234 billion (U$S29.8 billion) in 2018. The turnover for horse-racing bets was H$K122.8 billion (U$S 16 billion), which represents a 6% increase from the previous year. And this doesn’t even include China, one of the biggest betting countries, with the limitation that there are very few opportunities to bet legally…
 
Source: Hong Kong Jockey Club


Unstoppable growth

No other single factor has increased the growth of sports betting around the world more than the arrival of the internet. Before the internet, sports betting, though popular, was nowhere near as widespread as it is today. The beauty of internet is that people could place bets anytime from anywhere, on any device. As a result, sports betting has exploded ever since and continues to grow year after year.

The number of betting companies has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, and they pay U$S330.5M per year in sponsorship deals to sports clubs, according to a recent study by Sportcal. To take an example, Betway, a global online gambling company based in Malta, has 23 active deals across numerous sports including soccer, snooker, cricket and e-sports. This is a “right-on-target” type of promotion: where else would you find potential sport betters if not directly on sportsman jerseys and stadium billboards?


Source: Getty Images


What is happening on the illegal side?

The world of betting in general has always been associated with corruption and other illegal activities. We can find various reasons for illegal betting. Gamblers are usually attracted by a combination of factors. In some countries, the most basic reason is a complete ban on sports betting, meaning that potential gamblers have to go through an illegal system to place their bets. Another reason for illegal betting is that some betting syndicates offer better odds, making the payout more attractive. There is also a psychological barrier, a social stigma that can play a role in some cases, especially when a gambler needs to go to a physical location to place a bet, which makes it harder for them to remain discreet about their gambling habits.

Patrick Jay, a British independent betting expert invited to a 2015 United Nations conference focused on crime said that a conservative estimate of the worth of the betting market would be around U$S1 trillion. Then he added the shocking part: "The trillion is all global sports betting, of which the illegal amount would be 90 per cent of it.”.   While these numbers cannot be proved and are very rough estimates, they clearly show the dark side of sport betting and the fact that it will be almost impossible to attach an accurate figure to this huge and complex industry.

This is just the beginning

Betting in sport has increased in recent years, and while some countries are still trying to contain and legalize the whole process, it is undeniable that the potential growth of the industry is exponential, especially if the expansion in the US keeps its momentum.

A The Consultancy Group article, written by Alessandro Di Benedetto 

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