Sportsbooks Lukewarm on Early XFL Betting Potential

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  • While football is among the most popular sports to bet on, sportsbooks aren't too high on the XFL prior to its first season.
  • Among the issues are lack of team loyalty from bettors and a lack of history for setting the odds.
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Photo by Glenn Pinkerton/Las Vegas News Bureau via Getty Images

Football is king when it comes to the multi-billion dollar sports betting industry. However, unlike the NFL and college football, the XFL is unlikely to be a big draw.

While it’s less than a month from the new league’s Week 1 kickoff, U.S. sportsbooks aren’t too high on Vince McMahon’s latest project’s prospects. Still, it’s a new entity that will certainly bring in more money on game days than a day without it.

William Hill U.S. Director of Trading Nick Bogdanovich “won’t hold his breath” for massive handles, especially the initial few weeks. He said if it’s anything like other secondary football leagues from the past, XFL betting will be minimal.

“We’re rooting for it to be a success so that it can have a bigger role,” Bogdanovich said. “We want to offer anything that will drive the attention of a bettor, but we offer obscure things, like cricket and Australian rules football.

“You don’t know until you try. Maybe a star will develop, and the play will be halfway decent, and people will be jonesing for it,” he said.

At the root of the lack of enthusiasm surrounding XFL betting is its newness, so potential bettors don’t know the players and lack the built-in loyalty and allegiance the NFL and NCAA offers. 

Likewise, those bettors are coming off long seasons of football, so there is likely some fatigue, Bogdanovich said.

There are also still regulations preventing XFL betting at the moment, with only four states currently authorized to do so: Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Iowa. 

The lack of certainty led FanDuel to decline to participate in an interview for this story.

The XFL announced a deal this month with London-based Genius Sports to monitor betting on the league.

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck told Front Office Sports that the league will not have its own sports betting platform when it launches. While it won’t have its own platform, the league still acknowledges the role sports betting has in modern sports.

“The XFL is committed to bringing fans inside the game through more action, access and fun, and that means, among other things, embracing the important role gaming, fantasy and legalized sports betting all play in driving fan interest and engagement,” XFL President and COO Jeffrey Pollack said.

At Caesars properties, sportsbooks will offer bets on futures and games, said John Lukasik, sportsbook director at The Book at The LINQ Hotel + Experience in Las Vegas. Lukasik expects there to be an uptick in volume, but doubts it’ll come close to the “king of betting in the U.S.,” referring to the NFL. According to a September New York Times report, football made up 34% of Nevada’s sports betting handle in 2018, with basketball bringing in 33%.

Lukasik predicts some of the rules in the XFL should push up scoring and increase interest in over/under bets.

“The XFL is taking an innovative approach to football, having deeply analyzed every aspect of the game, and customizing rules based on where they find opportunities to differentiate themselves from NFL and college football,” Lukasik said. “As an operator, it’s always a plus to have additional content and games for guests to bet on.”

BetMGM doesn’t break out handle percentages by league, but the app’s operator Roar Digital CEO Adam Greenblatt “can confidently say that betting interest overall on our platform is by far the strongest with the NFL, with college football being close behind.”

Greenblatt believes there to be more potential bettors for the XFL than some of BetMGM’s competitors. 

“We’re of the belief that the American sports betting public has an appetite for even more football, and that the XFL will help sate that demand,” he said. “At the end of the day, if the XFL is able to regularly produce competitive, exciting games, bettors and viewers will flock to the league.”

The existence of the XFL is likely to add to an already sizable and growing sports betting industry in the U.S. Last week, the American Gaming Association reported $1.86 billion wagered in November in the U.S., the fourth straight month of more than a billion dollars bet on sports. November’s handle brings the nationwide total since the passing of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018 to $15.79 billion.

READ MORE: How Legal Sports Betting Helped Drive NFL’s First Half TV Ratings

The AGA didn’t have a comment on the XFL, partially because it’s new and there’s nothing to track.

The lack of history is a major problem when it comes to setting odds, Bogdanovich said. It won’t be until at least Week 3 that William Hill gets a better grasp on XFL betting.

“As a bookmaker, I’m not excited about it,” he said. “Any time there’s an unknown out there, that makes it harder for us. All we can do is read the roster, take a stab at a number and take infinitely smaller limits than the NFL and move the point spread fast.”

(Editor’s note: this story has been updated since it was originally published).