The drop in sports betting activity around the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic could be in the range of 60-70%, based on accounts offered by a mix of global sportsbook executives.
The leaders of companies that operate in Europe and South Africa described their difficulties of the past six weeks in a virtual panel discussion Monday, speaking from their homes and offices. It took place as part of this week’s SBC Digital Summit, a European-based conference of gaming executives from around the world to discuss common issues.
The four panelists for a session on how sportsbooks are weathering the sporting world’s postponement and cancellations voiced a common tale of cutbacks in what they can offer, and in what customers find is worth betting on, since mid-March.
Many bettors worldwide miss their soccer
“The sportsbook’s betting volume has declined about 60%,” said Alexander Martin, CEO of SKS 365, which has its heaviest presence in Italy.
His firm and others outside the U.S. rely on soccer as the No. 1 betting sport normally, and that sport has been largely shut down as a result of coronavirus concerns, with the exception of relatively low-level league play in Belarus and Nicaragua.
“Our drop was similar, around 65 to 70% depending on the day of the week,” echoed Minja Bolesnikov, CEO of MaxBet, based in Serbia.
While the speakers were discussing experiences outside of the U.S., there would undoubtedly be parallels to recent cutbacks among online sportsbooks in America. U.S. sportsbook executives are to take part in their own panel later in the week, but European firms like those represented Monday have been years ahead of U.S. counterparts in the field of online sports and casino gambling.
“The first two weeks starting in the middle of March to the end of March was quite a big shock to everyone,” said Dominik Beier, CEO of Interwetten, an online gaming company founded in Austria in the 1990s.
He said sports activity has picked up a bit in April with more live events taking place on which bets can be offered, even if they may be unfamiliar to many regular customers. And one difference from the pre-COVID-19 days is the uptick in how these new sports, such as table tennis, are attracting so much in-game betting.
Referring to a “massive increase” in live betting, Beier said, “Already, ‘live’ was around 70% for us before, and let’s say it’s over 90% now.”
Bets increase on eSports and unfamiliar sports
The operators also said they’ve seen an increase in wagering on eSports and virtual sports contests, which are both more commonly accepted across Europe than by regulators within the U.S. For instance, no wagering on eSports is permitted in Pennsylvania, although inroads have been made to get odds posted on certain events in Nevada and New Jersey.
The unfamiliarity of some of the events they are increasingly taking wagers on, whether eSports, virtual sports, or live minor sports like Russian table tennis, has been a challenge for both the operators and their customers, the executives said.
It has meant the sportsbooks won’t take wagers at some of the levels to which big bettors have been accustomed, and that’s especially true early in the cycle of betting on a new sport.
“The stake sizes allowed on new things three or four weeks ago was half of what it is now,” explained Tyrone Dobbin, managing director of Sportingbet South Africa. “We’re in a risk-based business. You open up small, start with a little bit of exposure, and then grow and react quickly.”
Few predictions on what the future holds
There was not much forecasting offered by the panel on just what the future holds in terms of the worldwide sports calendar getting back to normal, and whether the losses of the past month and a half can be recovered.
At the same time, the operators with iCasinos are finding those help make up for sportsbook shortfalls, which has been the case also in the few U.S. states that have both online sports betting and casinos — most notably New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“We have seen growth in [online casino play] right around 10 to 15% throughout all the territories,” Beier said. “It cannot compensate for what you lose in the sportsbook, but it’s definitely helping to get through the crisis.”
Beier’s firm does not supply online poker, but Martin’s does, and he said revenues from the card game have been double or triple what they were previously. Online poker sites in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have also seen surges since early March.
“People are at home with more time, they’re looking for something to spend their time on — it’s not simply about winning,” Martin said. “People want to have some kind of interaction.”
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