- The Marbula One marble racing series has been been a surprise betting hit.
- It is a simulation of a Formula 1 racing season–only with marbles.
- With most sports on hiatus bookmakers worldwide are getting creative in finding events for bettors to wager on
It’s no secret that sportsbooks around the world have been scrambling to fill their betting boards during the COVID-19 pandemic sports shutdown. One result is that several sports well ‘under the radar’ have become surprisingly popular with bettors and fans. In Nevada, the top betting sport available through the four sportsbook apps currently up and running (William Hill, MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and Circa Sports) is Russian and Ukrainian table tennis which is attracting ‘six figures in daily bets’. We’ll give the Russian and Ukrainian table tennis scene the coverage it deserves in a future article.
Even more surprising than the popularity of table tennis from Eastern Europe is marble racing. The backstory would be fascinating enough even without the current insane popularity and the addition of the betting component. The ‘marble racing’ in question is called ‘Marbula One’ and is described by the creator simply enough as ‘Formula 1 for marbles’. Before we get into the backstory here’s some videos. First, a ‘teaser’ video that shows how the whole thing is put together:
This video is the final race of the 2020 Marbula One season:
Now the backstory: the Marbula One is a product of a YouTube site called ‘Jelle’s Marble Runs’ created and operated by brothers Jelle Bakker and Dion Bakker from Wervershoof, Netherlands. According to the Jelle’s Marble Runs Wikipedia Page, Jelle Bakker has a form of autism and has been unemployed for most of his adult life. He started building marble tracks as a hobby and everything has blown up from there. Even before the current popularity some of his tracks had been installed in museums. Greg Woods does the English language commentary.
MARBULA ONE BLOWS UP
Marbula One and the sport of marble racing had a sizable cult following before it was featured on ESPN in a block of programming with other unusual sports. The general idea was to goof on all of them but at least as marble racing was concerned that didn’t happen–it attracted even more fans to the aforementioned YouTube channel. The numbers that they’ve put up since are insane–768,745 subscribers and the March numbers are even more amazing with 169,890 subscribers added, 9.4 million views and 49.1 million minutes watched.
With most sports on hiatus it was only a matter of time before marble racing found a home on the betting boards at offshore sportsbooks. The popularity is understandable–the construction of the tracks and production of the videos are downright incredible and particularly since they’re done by just two people (not including the announcer). There are a variety of tracks, detailed rules and the entire undertaking is treated with a good deal of seriousness. Since the production team keeps the videos–and the race results–hush hush until air time it works perfectly as a betting event.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the cult of marble racing is how much fun the fans have with it. On the Jelle’s Marble Runs Reddit group they discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their favorite teams, analyze statistics from past races and give their previews of upcoming events. There’s plenty of memes that will make sense only to a serious devotee of marble sports. There’s a lot of what pro wrestling geeks like to call ‘suspension of disbelief’–the fans obviously know how the races are produced but they play along with the conceit which makes the whole thing even more enjoyable.
In a perfect world, Marbula One will eventually end up on betting boards at Nevada sportsbooks. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has started to show more flexibility and responsiveness in allowing their licensees to book esports and virtual sports like the eNASCAR competition. The NGC would likely be concerned about ‘inside information’ compromising the integrity of betting but to date I’ve not seen anything to suggest this is currently an issue. Obviously, marble racing isn’t going to replace the ‘major sports’ when they get back to work but even once things return to a relative degree of normalcy there’s plenty of good reasons to maintain a creative approach to the sports that bookmakers are allowed to take action on.