- The Colorado Division of Gaming has suspended betting on Russian and Belarusian sports in response to the Ukraine invasion.
- The directive includes Russian and Belarusian ‘governing bodies, leagues, teams, players and events’.
- These are definitely ‘niche’ sports but some have a fair amount of popularity.
One of my associates asked the question in the title of this article after I forwarded them the press release from Colorado’s Division of Gaming about the suspension of betting on Russian and Belarusian sports:
“So, who in Colorado bets on Russian and Belarusian sports anyway? Isn’t this more of a symbolic gesture than anything else?”
Yes and no. I think Colorado’s heart is in the right place with this move. There have been others in the gaming industry to make a similar move and in aggregate these will hurt Russian sports. The sports in question are definitely niche sports but these are the types of sports that depend on betting to attract more wide spread interest than their traditional fanbase.
The latest to exit Russia and Belarus is Genius Sports and this is a pretty significant hit. Genius Sports is a data distribution company and if they’re no longer offering scores, play by play, lines, etc. the ‘niche’ Russian sports quickly become irrelevant for betting purposes. Polish stat provider Statscore has taken a similar stance. Statscore minced no words whatsoever in announcing the move:
Individual sportsbooks have also made the same move. No surprise that Kyiv founded Parimatch quickly exited Russia–they’re based in Cyprus now so they’re not in ‘harms way’ but they cited their Ukranian roots in announcing the move. Bet365 is also no longer serving Russia and they’re a big deal, to be sure. LeoVegas is also withdrawn from Russia for the same reason.
So what sports are we talking about here? In terms of international importance, the top sport and league is likely the KHL, often considered the second best pro hockey league in the world behind the NHL. They’ve already taken a couple of big hits with non-Russian teams from Riga, Latvia and Helsinki, Finland withdrawing from the KHL. That was a significant blow for the KHL, but the most significant hit came when the NHL ceased all dealings with the league. They’re also losing a number of foreign based players. Despite the league’s revatively high international profile I can’t imagine there’s a ton of betting action on the KHL in Colorado.
As far as betting handle, the biggest sport is that ‘cult favorite’ from the pandemic–table tennis. The popularity of table tennis among bettors has cooled somewhat, but in January 2021 (the latest month reported) Colorado sportsbooks took over $7.5 million USD in bets on the sport. That’s more than golf and MMA, though golf is essentially in it’s ‘off season’.
Denver has a decent sized population of Russian immigrants and they might be the only people interested in many of the other sports. Badminton, Futsal and Handball are of minimal interest to North American bettors. Russian league volleyball and soccer as well. None of these sports are bringing in a lot of betting action in Colorado or any other US facing sportsbook.
Of course the lack of significance of Russian sports isn’t Colorado’s fault. They made the right move and the fact that it isn’t a huge financial hit is an ancillary benefit.