SBC Rewind: World Cup fever hits North America as Maryland goes online

The end of the year was dominated by sporting action. As usual, the NFL continued to dazzle the US, providing plenty of betting opportunities for punters
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The end of the year was dominated by sporting action. As usual, the NFL continued to dazzle the US, providing plenty of betting opportunities for punters. But the anomaly of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar taking place in winter saw many observers question whether the US audiences would turn into soccer fans for the spectacle. 

The USA’s valiant display reaching the last 16 certainly earned the respect of global soccer fans, but the big question was whether that would translate into a meaningful betting handle. 

Elsewhere, Maryland kicked off its sports wagering market following a long process, whilst California had its expensive woes to mull over after failing to win the support of voters for its sports betting proposals. 

World Cup Fever

Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the US, but fans were certainly enamored by the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. 

Ahead of the tournament, excitement was brewing with operators making operational strategies months in advance, though nobody was certain that US audiences would quite be ready for this particular tournament. 

Jake Benzaquen, Co-Founder at Prophet Exchange, told SBC Americas that whilst interest in this World Cup was indeed very high, it will be dwarfed by future soccer betting activity. 

He said: “We expect this World Cup to be significant at garnering further interest not only on the game of soccer itself, but on betting on soccer. 

“We anticipate the World Cup to be a semi-popular event for bettors now, but are even more optimistic at how this can elevate the perception of soccer betting, specifically on marquee events such as the UEFA Champions League or Premier League, moving forward.”

The USMNT reached the final 16 of the tournament, losing out to a savvy Netherlands side, but positive performances in their three group games against Wales, England, and Iran won over fans around the world. 

This did turn into betting volume, with Geocomply noting that the World Cup final attracted 7.9m geolocation checks in the US, bested only by the Super Bowl in terms of betting volume.

Furthermore, OpenBet noted strong performance in North America, with over 50% of OpenBet ‘Bet Builder’ stakes placed by US-based customers. Moreover, the USA’s matches garnered over $100m in wagers, including 5.6 million bets placed on the USMNT’s 0-0 draw with England. 

Jordan Levin, CEO at OpenBet, said: “Alongside a strong performance in Europe, the growth we have seen in North American markets demonstrates our ability to cater to these rapidly regulating jurisdictions, and this also puts us in good stead for the 2026 World Cup, set to be held in the US, Canada, and Mexico.”

Maryland launch, California Dreams die

After legalizing sports betting in 2021, it was a long road towards launching for Maryland, which finally went live with legalized online sports betting in November

Seven of ten licenses were awarded ahead of launch, with Barstool Sportsbook, BetMGM Sportsbook, BetRivers Sportsbook, Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook and PointsBet Sportsbook all going live on Nov 23.

However, it was not a positive opening week of action for the market, with the issue of promotional credit forcing its way to the fore. 

Following the subtraction of promotional credit, the state’s online operators only generated $4,262 in tax revenue on over $186m in wagers in the first nine days of the market. 

Meanwhile, the midterm elections also coincided with the Californian elections on sports betting, in which voters categorically denied both Prop 26 and Prop 27.

Around $600m was spent on campaigning efforts from either side, but both bills received less than 30% support each, leaving all parties to go back to the drawing board ahead of a potential second try in 2024. 

Other notable happenings

Notable mentions go to Jim ‘Mattress Mack’ McIngvale, who rinsed bookmakers in Louisiana in November when the Houston Astros won the World Series

As part of his marketing strategy for his furniture store, Mack placed a $10m wager on the Astros to win the World Series and, after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies, won $75m, wiping out most of the profits made in baseball wagering in Louisiana since the market opened in January. 

It wasn’t the only sign of struggles in the industry either; MaximBet announced it would close down just three weeks after launching in Indiana, citing ‘challenging macroeconomic conditions’. 

Whilst this does seem to suggest that smaller sportsbooks do not generate enough revenue to remain in the business, it wasn’t just the small firms that struggled.

Wynn Resorts could not tell its investors when its digital business would become profitable during its Q3 earnings call. 

CEO Craig Billings said that the firm thinks about its digital business in the long term and that they’re not willing to “burn billions of dollars” to achieve profitability.