The first live sporting events on network TV since early March took place on Sunday with NASCAR in action at Darlington and a PGA Tour charity Skins game. In both instances, America was watching.
NASCAR drew 6.32 million viewers, the most for a non-Daytona 500 race since 2017, and the four-man Skins match featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Matthew Wolff drew 2.35 million viewers.
That enthusiasm for live sports also translated well to the few sportsbooks operating in Nevada through mobile phone apps.
“The NASCAR action far exceeded our expectations,” said Westgate SuperBook VP of risk management Jeff Sherman. “Ticket counts were up while the handle was down slightly because most of our big bettors play only over the counter. We lost a bit with (Kevin) Harvick who we opened 8-1 and closed at 7-1 and broke even on the driver matchups.”
South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said they were “very happy with the handle” and Circa sports director Matt Metcalf said the handle was “solid, double their normal handle.”
The amazing part about the NASCAR handle is that it’s limited to just bettors with accounts. The brick-and-mortar operations are still closed in Nevada. The uptick in volume is likely a combination of being bored of a betting menu featuring table tennis and Korean baseball as well as being overly excited about a live event that is somewhat easy to follow and understand.
“Our NASCAR handle was up 25 percent in odds to win from last year’s Darlington race (held in September) and 40 percent more in driver matchups,” said William Hill’s head bookmaker Nick Bogdanovich.
Having a phone account used to be for big bettors only. But the casual bettor has them as well. For William Hill, which has over 100 retail books in operation throughout Nevada, to show that big of a gain with phones only is a remarkable achievement and also a testament to how starved for we are for a betting event on national TV.
The same type of betting interest didn’t turn out for the Skins match.
“We didn’t do much to the golf, but did about 50 percent of the action on in-play and the other 50 percent on pre-match odds,” Sherman said.
William Hill’s books didn’t see the type of fevered action NASCAR produced, either when it came to the golf betting.
“The golf was nothing special, but we still had a decent handle,” said Bogdanovich. “We did in-progress to it as well with most of the action coming from matchups.”
The winner for the weekend for most bet shops was the UFC. Alistair Overeem’s second-round stoppage of Walt Harris in the heavyweight main event from Jacksonville, Fla., highlighted a very good card which was televised by ESPN.
“The UFC was solid on Saturday, making it three straight cards we’ve won to,” Sherman said.
It was the same story at William Hill with an additional bit to the overall weekend story.
“The UFC on Saturday was the top handled event for a day, but table tennis is tops every day and is like 10 times more than anything else we handle,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s insane.”
In the end, NASCAR saw a bump and the books won with UFC, but the top earner remains table tennis, which operates every day in Russia and has a huge underground audience.