The Evolution of Betting on Women’s Sports 

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Sportsbooks around the world are seeing a massive influx of women bettors. A study by Global Wireless Solutions found that women are signing up for mobile sports betting apps at a much higher rate than men. In the US, over 4.6 million women signed up for mobile sports betting apps in the past year, an increase of 115% from 2020. By contrast, the growth rate for male users is 63%, though male users still outnumber their female counterparts by 250%. 

But over at SheBettor, a sister website to Gaming Today, we also wanted to know: What about wagers on women’s sports, regardless of the gender of the person placing the bet? Why have women’s sports historically received less betting action than men’s sports — from male and female bettors? Are wagers on women’s sports increasing? And what does the future look like for betting on women’s sports? 

Hint: It’s getting brighter. Women in sports are pushing the game forward in ways we’ve never seen before, and there’s never been a better time to bet on women in sports.

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A (Very) Brief History of Women’s Sports & Sports Betting

The history of gambling on women’s sports starts with the history of women’s sports — which have been around for as long as women have. Sports betting, too, has been around nearly forever. Gambling legality waxes and wanes, but wagering on athletic competitions has likely been around as long as competition itself.

Ironically, one of the first efforts to formally recognize women’s sports in the United States was also an effort to keep women from gambling. In the mid-1800s, a group of women educators wanted their women students to be able to play sports while being shielded from the “corruption” of men’s sports. What kind of corruption? Gambling, of course!

Fast-forward to 1972. The US enacts Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex for any educational programs or activities that receive funding from the federal government. While the law mentions nothing about athletics, Title IX has become synonymous with gender equity in sports.

On the sports betting side, things were going in a different direction. Congress enacted the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 1992, which banned single-game wagering everywhere except for Nevada. That lasted, with a few exceptions, until 2018 when the US Supreme Court struck it down, and the modern era of legal sports betting began. 

Now, in 2022, both sports betting and women’s sports are exploding in popularity. Here are a few numbers to consider: 

  • Since 2018, 30 states have legalized sports betting in some form, including 21 that allow online betting.
  • In Feb. 2022, the US Women’s National Soccer Team won a $24 million settlement and a pledge from the US Soccer Federation to equalize pay between men’s and women’s teams.
  • In April 2022, the NCAA women’s basketball championship set the record for the most-watched college basketball on ESPN since 2008. It was also the most bet-on women’s game in BetMGM history. 

As we said, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of women’s sports and sports betting. So, what about the two together?

Sportsbooks See Growth in Wagers on Women’s Sports in 2022

In the past two years, the major sportsbooks in the United States have seen growth in wagers on women’s sports year-over-year. We reached out to FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars to crunch numbers and hear their take on that growth.

At DraftKings, bets on women’s sports are up 61% year-over-year, and their overall handle (or amount of money in wagers accepted) on women’s sports is up 22%. Since launching in 2018, DraftKings says they’ve increased the number of women’s leagues available by 30x.

They say that tennis and basketball are a big part of the growth. 

FanDuel says the WNBA has drawn significant interest over the summer months, increasing 270% in bet count and 101% in handle across all locations. 

At DraftKings, the biggest handles in women’s sports go to the WNBA, Australian Open Tennis, College Basketball, US Open Tennis, and Olympic Basketball.

Craig Mucklow, the VP of Trading at Caesars Sportsbook, told SheBettor/Gaming Today in an email, “In recent years, the WNBA’s popularity has risen. We have observed significant growth in handle and interest in recent years helped by extensive TV coverage and some marquee players coming out of college to further solidify an all-around great product.”

Are Women’s Sports Still Wagered on Less Than Men’s?

With all this momentum, sports bettors still wager less on women’s sports than men’s. Lower betting on women’s sports is a symptom of the same disparities that have created a gap between men’s and women’s athletics: networks and leagues don’t invest nearly as much in women’s sports. 

According to a UNESCO survey, women comprise 40% of all athletes but only 4% of sports media coverage. Women’s sports get less funding, less promotion, less broadcast time, and even get the short end of the stick on data and analytics. 

In 2015, an analyst at FiveThirtyEight wrote a piece on how there’s no “rich data” available on women’s sports. A lack of rich data leads to fewer prop bets on individual players and less interest in wagers across the board. Sue Bird wrote a piece in The Player’s Tribune highlighting the same data inequities.

Women’s Sports Fans, the Perfect Mobile Sports Bettors?

On the bright side, a large study by The Fan Project found that women’s sports fans are ideal candidates to be active mobile sports bettors. In short, “women’s sports are the startups of an otherwise big, corporate sports world.”

The report, based on tens of millions of social media and TV viewership data points, found that women’s sports fans are:

  • More tech-savvy than other fans. Part of this is because women’s sports have historically had abysmal broadcast coverage compared to men’s. Fans of women’s sports have had to learn how to navigate apps and streaming services to see their favorite athletes play.
  • A more networked community than other fans. Community is a massive part of sports betting — wagers help add to the conversation and keep fans involved. Women’s sports fans generally show stronger trends of “co-watching” sports together. “Fans of women’s sports want to watch, and they want to watch together,” according to the report.
  • Ready to activate. Because women’s sports have had to come from behind, fans have been both advocates and activists for decades. They’re more prepared to get out and promote their sports and their teams.

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What Does the Future of Betting on Women’s Sports Look Like?

It’s time to bet on women! Jaymee Messler, the co-founder of The Player’s Tribune and founder of the Gaming Society, argued in a piece in the Sports Business Journal that the inequality between men’s and women’s sports “doesn’t stem from a demand shortage, but rather a greater lack of visibility, accessibility, and media coverage around women’s sports.”

“But when given a real platform,” Messler continued, “women’s sports are proven to deliver. Look no further than the NWSL’s recent media rights deal with CBS, when 100% of the league’s games were available to fans for the first time via television or streaming. According to The Fan Project, NWSL viewership grew by 476% in the first year of its new deal, showing the upside in engagement.”

Remember that NCAA women’s basketball final we talked about – the one that broke viewership and sports betting records? The game was so popular because ESPN and the NCAA finally started investing in the women’s tournament (though still far less than they invest in the men’s). ESPN put the finals on primetime and expanded its viewing options. The NCAA finally allowed the women’s tournament to use March Madness branding and have a First Four round.

When we bet on women’s sports, they always deliver.

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About the Author
Hannah Vanbiber

Hannah Vanbiber

Hannah Vanbiber is a writer for Gaming Today and New York Sports Day. She started her journalism career in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a reporter covering local sports, entertainment, and business in the East Tennessee area. She is now a full-time freelance writer, editor, and reporter, covering women’s sports and sports betting in the New York metropolitan area.

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