Snooker? There’s Big Money In Old British Ball-And-Cue Game, Available For Betting In PA

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Snooker. Snooker! Snooker? It’s fun to say, but what the heck is it?

Before we tell you, just know that at least three Pennsylvania mobile sportsbooks allow betting on it, along with a host of other relatively unknown sports. The spread of COVID-19 has shuttered sportsbooks across the country — all retail locations were closed in Pennsylvania on March 16 — and desperate times are calling for, well, desperate measures.

Table tennis is leading handle at many digital sportsbooks across the country, including at Play SugarHouse and BetRivers in Pennsylvania. And sports bettors are laying wagers on Belarus soccer, cricket, darts, and other sports or sports leagues that are new to them. All Pennsylvania online sportsbooks are offering odds on soccer in far-flung places while DraftKings SportsbookFanDuel Sportsbook, BetRivers, and Play SugarHouse are also offering odds on darts, which is popular in the United Kingdom. FOX Bet is the only mobile platform not offering odds on either darts or snooker.

But back to snooker. Odds are being offered on one, count ’em, one, snooker event on the Unibet, BetRivers, and PlaySugarHouse mobile platforms. Why? And how do bookmakers determine odds on something so unique?

Snooker is popular in the United Kingdom

“It’s our European heritage,” said Arnas Janickas, head of marketing in the U.S. for Unibet. “It drives a decent handle to exotic sports for the Americans, snooker and darts. Kambi had experienced traders who could create the odds, so we’re happy to have that.”

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Kambi runs the Unibet and Rush Street Interactive (BetRivers, Play SugarHouse) mobile platforms, and has overseas experience. Unibet, owned by the Kindred Group, is headquartered in Malta, but operates in Europe, Australia, and the U.S. Kambi, which was spun off from Unibet in 2014, also has its headquarters in Malta and operates in Europe, Australia, and the U.S. Rush Street Interactive is headquartered in Chicago.

“Snooker is a popular sport with a huge bettor following in the UK and Asia, so we’re pleased to bring this content to our BetRivers.com and PlaySugarHouse.com patrons to increase the range of sports offerings available at the moment,” Mattias Stetz, COO of Rush Street Interactive, said via email. “The current climate hasn’t stopped us from actively innovating and bringing new sporting events to our online sportsbooks.”

In Pennsylvania, only sports that fall under the definition of an “athletic contest” can be approved for wagering. So while Indiana, Nevada, and New Jersey have added some eSports to their list of approved offerings in the last few weeks, and West Virginia appeared to be considering allowing betting on the presidential election, those events can’t be approved in the Keystone State.

But snooker can be … and is. So, finally, what is snooker?

It’s a cue-and-ball sport that got its start when British Army officers stationed in India began playing it in the second half of the 1800s. The table looks a lot like what we Americans call a “pool” or billiards table, and the game is played by using a cue ball to sink 21 other balls in numerical sequence. Like tennis, multiple snooker games are usually played to make up a set or match.

Snooker’s military roots

In 1875, army officer Sir Neville Chamberlain (not former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who would have been six years old at the time) came up with a set of rules that was a cross between two other games: pyramid and black pool. He named the game “snooker,” which was oft used to describe first-year or inexperienced military personnel, much like Americans use “grunt” or “plebe.” By 1919, the Billiards Association and Control Club was formed, and today snooker is governed by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association. Events are played in Europe, Asia, Oceana, and North America.

“The fact that you are asking questions suggests that it’s not a major revenue driver, but we’re glad to be able to diversify,” Janickas said. “Those are big tournaments, big tournaments with professionals and big money.”

The event on the board in Pennsylvania is the snooker World Championship, initially set for April 18-May 4 at the Crucible Theater in Sheffield, England. It has been postponed until later this year amid the coronavirus crisis. The championships start with 32 top players and are narrowed down to four by the final. There is £2.395 million of prize money, with the winner taking home £500,000.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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Jill R. Dorson

Jill has covered everything from steeplechase to the NFL and then some during a more than 30-year career in sports journalism. The highlight of her career was covering Oakland Raiders during the Charles Woodson/Jon Gruden era, including the infamous “Snow Bowl” and the Raiders’ 2003 trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. Her specialty these days is covering sports betting legislation across the country.

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