Bettors had wagered $6,589,475 on table tennis, an amount greater than the combined bets placed on the four next-most-popular sports.
Pundits suggested it was a fluke, an anomaly stemming from the COVID-19 sports shutdown. And June's returns, in which table tennis was again a winner, seemed to support that, since most major American sports leagues had yet to restart.
But then the July numbers came out. Even though many big sports were back in business, table tennis still ranked as the third-most-popular sport to bet on in Colorado, just after baseball and soccer.
In fact, table tennis has remained in the top five since then. From May through October, sports bettors in Colorado wagered just over $40 million on table tennis.
"When sports betting was legalized in May, it really was one of the only shows in town," suggests Patrick Eichner, a spokesperson for PointsBet, a mobile sports-betting app that recently went live in Colorado. "I think that opportunity of first impression was paramount regardless of the situation. That first impression means a lot."
And it's apparently carried over. "Since August, the numbers have decreased, but with the amount of knowledge bettors gained over those first few months, action on the sport has remained good," says Kevin Dawn, who runs the Barstool Sportsbook at the Ameristar in Black Hawk. "Most of the action on table tennis is live betting on the apps, as it is fast-moving and bettors get quick results. Because of the pandemic, table tennis was able to create a niche, and the more changes in the normal sports schedule, the longer that niche will be around to pick up the action."
While many of the eighteen mobile apps and twelve sports-betting retail locations now active in Colorado offer wagers on table tennis, which mainly revolves around a professional league in Russia, Monarch Casino in Black Hawk, which has its own in-person sportsbook and mobile app, has chosen not to include it. Monarch management has concerns about the integrity of the league and isn't convinced that matches are 100 on the up-and-up, according to casino staffers.
In June, the Colorado Division of Gaming "was made aware of a concern involving Moscow Liga Pro, a Russian table tennis league," prompting an investigation, according to division spokesperson Suzanne Karrer. "The division did not identify any reasons that rose to the level of suspending it or taking it out of play."
But while bets on Russian table tennis are still allowed in Colorado, the state has taken action on leagues in another country.
"The Division of Gaming received credible information, from integrity monitoring, of potential match-fixing and inconsistencies in betting patterns, in at least one foreign country, on Ukrainian table tennis. Not having any specific issues with betting in the U.S., as a precautionary and preemptive action, the Division of Gaming suspended betting on Ukrainian table tennis," Karrer explains. "The division did not have any evidence that match-fixing or any unusual betting patterns surfaced in the Colorado market, but took steps to suspend the Ukrainian table tennis based on the data and reports received." A number of other states also suspended betting on Ukrainian table tennis in July.
Betting on table tennis leagues in any country, as well as other sports in the U.S. and around the globe, was made possible by the passage of Proposition DD by Colorado voters in November 2019. The ballot measure legalizing sports betting dictated that the majority of the tax revenue generated go to the Colorado Water Plan. In October, bettors in the state wagered $210.7 million on sports, resulting in $824,700 in taxes.
But who are those bettors lavishing cash on table tennis bets? So far, we've been unable to find one.
"You would think it'd be easier to find someone who does [bet on table tennis], given how popular it is," says Ian St. Clair, lead writer at PlayColorado.com. "They must think it's like listening to Michael Bolton or something like that, and don't want to admit to it."
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