Women's college basketball betting soars ahead of March Madness

One year removed from the paradigm-shifting 2023 women’s NCAA basketball tournament, fans are still seeing its effects. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is a bona fide superstar who is transcending basketball. This year’s tournament features multiple teams that are capable of winning a championship, including Iowa, South Carolina, Stanford, Texas, UConn, USC and, of course, reigning champion LSU.

Women’s March Madness is a great spectator sport, and the increased attention has made it great for betting. With momentum thoroughly on the sport’s side, sportsbooks have taken notice and are getting creative to elevate the game even further.

“We’ve seen significant increases in betting and fan engagement around women’s basketball all season long,” ESPN BET head of sportsbook Patrick Jay said. “For the women’s tournament, we’re offering more wagering options than ever before, as well as an array of special markets tied to the top teams and storylines.” These include an array of Caitlin Clark specials, a South Carolina vs. The Field bet, as well as elevated offerings on upsets.

Tipico Sportsbook had previously only developed target numbers for the men’s tournament, but the book is now reshaping its business strategy and developing targets for the women’s game.

“It’s really great that there is as much attention as there is on it because it’s even changing the way we plan for March,” Tipico head of trading Sunny Gupta said. “It’s impacted our procedures.”

Between the undeniable star power and dramatic storylines, the women’s NCAA tournament saw several sportsbooks take elevated action. BetMGM told ESPN that the total number of bets it took increased by 22% from 2022 to 2023, and it took 252% more futures from 2022 to 2023. FanDuel reported that the championship game between LSU and Iowa saw a 100% increase in handle year over year.

Caesars Sportsbook said it offered 85% more events for the 2023 postseason and saw a 6.2% increase in handle, but also a 13.5% decrease in bet count. One possible explanation is that the sport is becoming a haven for experienced bettors.

“A lot of our handle is a lot of sharper customers that are probably making their own numbers, and it’s very tough from an operator standpoint to keep up with it,” Caesars lead basketball trader Grant Tucker said. We’re offering it because it’s on TV and because it takes a big handle, but it’s not because we’re just rolling around in money. It’s actually a very tough sport to handicap and to make numbers on.”

Whether the books win or not — and they’re getting better at winning as they’ve “gotten to know the teams better,” DraftKings director of sportsbook operations Johnny Avello said — they know the opportunity is there to acquire a whole new sector of users. So, they’ve started significantly upping their offerings.

With so much money on the line — BetMGM reported that it saw a 130% increase in futures bets from 2023 to 2024, and a 709% increase from 2022 to 2024 — it makes sense that the sportsbooks will want to get it right.

Caesars provided 38% more offerings on women’s college basketball during the 2023-24 regular season, resulting in a 174% increase in bets and 118% increase in handle. BetMGM said it saw 2.5 times more bets this season compared to last season.

While DraftKings didn’t specify exactly how many more offerings it had this regular season, Avello said they offered action on almost all of the games in a given week rather than just picking and choosing the big matchups. It resulted in an astounding 14-times increase in handle and a 13-times increase in tickets.

“We did a pretty sizable menu this year for women’s and it’s because it’s become more popular,” Avello said. “I think the reason that women’s basketball in general has done well is, first of all, the games are TV accessible, a lot of streaming on major networks.”

The increased access to the sport on television is nothing to scoff at from a bettor’s perspective. Last year’s national championship game, which aired on ABC for the first time, attracted 9.9 million viewers to become the most-watched women’s college basketball game of all time.

The TV engagement works in harmony with betting and other elements to create “a self-reinforcing loop, where each element of success builds on and magnifies the others,” Virginia Tech collegiate associate professor in economics Jadrian Wooten said.

“Betting activity often reflects engagement levels,” Wooten said. “As more people bet on women’s basketball, it naturally attracts even more attention. This isn’t just from bettors themselves, but also from sports media outlets and platforms that cover betting trends and game analyses.”

“TV viewership is key in my mind to the size of the handle because in-game betting doesn’t happen unless people are glued to their screens,” added Jay Zagorsky, Boston University Questrom School of Business clinical associate professor.

And while much of the country will be rooting for the amazing story of Clark and the Hawkeyes, the sportsbooks will likely be rooting against them: All of the operators interviewed said that Iowa is among their biggest liabilities for this year’s tournament.

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