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No matter how much more available everyday sports betting has become in America, there’s one common thread that may continue to stand the test of must-see-TV time.

Nothing seems to draw moths to the betting flame like the word “postseason.”

The just-completed college football schedule provides the latest example, at least in Midwest states, as handle in the sport across the region exploded down the stretch run and through the annual set of College Football Playoff games.

Three prominent sportsbook services contacted since the Jan. 11 national championship game between Alabama and Ohio State all presented data showing these January-and-after games dwarfing their regular-season competition in terms of both bet volume and overall handle.

Of course, the fact that the sport reached this popular endpoint in a pandemic-stricken season is perhaps cause enough to celebrate.

“I’m glad they got it done,” said William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher. “Was it perfect? Of course not. But the games, by and large, were played, even though things were difficult at times. It was no doubt a successful season.

“If one year ago, you were having this conversation and you said Ohio State and Alabama would be playing in a championship game, you may have said, ‘Oh, really, what happened with Clemson?’ But otherwise, nothing about this would have seemed different, and so COVID didn’t really change the result. We certainly took a more circuitous route.”

Perhaps no state’s activity better underscored the dominance of the postseason in the betting picture than Illinois, which completed its first college football season as a legal market. According to BetRivers, the first gaming group to launch mobile wagering in the state, the national championship handle surpassed that of any other two college football games combined for the season.

There were two exceptions to that threshold and — you guessed it — they were the two CFP semifinals between Clemson and Ohio State, and Alabama and Notre Dame, which ranked second and third in handle, respectively. The only non-playoff or bowl game to crack the top five among BetRivers bettors was still a showdown involving two playoff teams, when the first Clemson-Notre Dame matchup Nov. 7 took two overtime periods to reach a decision.

Data from PointsBet regarding Indiana’s most heavily wagered games shows a hint of what could occur in a more seasoned local market. (Indiana launched sports wagering in September 2019, thus making 2020 the second full college football season.) The Cinderella-like run of the Indiana Hoosiers — from unranked to narrowly missing a New Year’s Six bowl berth — resulted in the Outback Bowl against Ole Miss as the highest-volume handle in the state. Still, the national title game ranked second, with a regular-season Big Ten Conference showdown between Wisconsin and West Division champion Northwestern third in the handle race.

DraftKings’ data from Iowa emphasized the renewed push for sportsbooks in the state to start 2021 following the elimination of in-person registration requirements for of-age bettors. The state’s top five games by handle occurred after that “relaunch” date of Jan. 1, with the two Ohio State-based playoff games leading the way. The only outlier in Iowa compared with other Midwest states involved the Fiesta Bowl victory by Iowa State over Oregon on New Year’s Day, which saw the fifth-most handle for DraftKings. Incidentally, the Cyclones were the most bet-on team by bet volume in the state, and second in handle to Alabama.

In both Iowa and Indiana, the top revenue driver for DraftKings this season was Ohio State’s semifinal surprise over Clemson.

The shortened season, plus a limited bowl and playoff schedule of just 26 games, may have contributed to the accentuated dominance of late-stage games among overall handle in the region. But Asher offered an alternative explanation for the alternative reality presented by these past months.

“More games is a better situation, but the key is to have high-quality games that get people interested,” he said. “You can add on, too, that betting volume has been higher during the pandemic. That’s a reflection of less things for people to do. I attribute that to more folks being at home and consuming more of the betting product.”

About the Author
Danny Lawhon

Danny Lawhon

Danny Lawhon is based in West Des Moines, Iowa, and has maintained a diverse sports journalism career for more than a decade, including with the Des Moines Register. A native of northwest Missouri, Danny earns his betting money as a professional musician.

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