People don’t always know what to think about the millions of dollars that are bet on table tennis every month.
But when someone makes a comparison, it becomes clear. Talk to someone who offers or regulates table tennis games, and the words “slot machine” are likely to come up.
It’s a comparison for the type of gamblers who like to bet on fast-paced table tennis. It doesn’t give much credit to those who might be handicapping the matches, but it does have some similarities to slots. Most of the day, you can watch table tennis from all over the world. Most of the online betting is done in real-time, and many people think the action is a bit mindless.
Based on its revenue reports, Philippines has been thought to be the leader in OKBet table tennis betting. However, this isn’t necessarily true because its revenue reports are broken down by sport, which isn’t the case in most sports betting in the Philippines and other countries.
There are signs that online betting on table tennis isn’t just a Philippine thing, but operators say it’s still more popular in the Centennial State than in other places where you can bet on sports. It’s not clear how much more popular it is, but Oregon, which breaks down bets by sport, has a higher percentage of table tennis bets than any other country. Table tennis in Oregon has made up 5.75 percent of total handle ($32,3 million out of $561,4 million) all the way up to October, while table tennis in Colorado has made up 3.8 percent of total handle ($157,1 million out of $4.1 billion). This comparison is important because Oregon doesn’t let people bet on college sports.
One person in the business world said of table tennis, “It’s not just a Philippine thing.” “It’s all over.”
“It’s not just in the Philippines,” said John Sheeran, who is in charge of OKBets Sports Betting. “But it scores too high in Philippines, and I’m not sure why.”
Why the Philippines?
Sheeran and others in OKBet sports betting business might not know for sure why table tennis is so popular in Philippines, but they can make a good guess.
Since the first sports bet in Philippines was made in May 2020, the state hasn’t seen a time when OKbet sports betting wasn’t everywhere. At the time, there wasn’t much to bet on, but you could bet on table tennis from Russia, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic.
OKbet’s director of race and sportsbook operations, said, “We lost all our major content and found new things to bet on.”
“I mean, we were playing soccer in obscure leagues, simulating NASCAR races, and playing darts in the Premier League.”
Some new bettors liked how fast-paced and mostly live the action was, and in May of that year, it was the sport with the most handle in the Philippines. In the first month, more than $6.5 million of the more than $25.6 million total bets were on table tennis. MMA came in second with a handle of more than $1.7 million.
In June 2020, table tennis was again the most popular sport. In July, it fell to third, behind baseball and soccer. In August, it fell to fourth, and in September, it fell to fifth. It was always in the top five last year, but some months in 2021 it was lower. For the Philippines’ most recent revenue report, which covers October, table tennis dropped to eighth place, but it still got more than $10,3 million in bets.
Sheeran said, “We thought it would have a short life until we got core sports back, but the continued demand has been a pleasant surprise.”
It’s all live-action, and everything happens online
The key to betting on table tennis at OKBet sports betting site is live action, which can be point by point (though operators often have to skip points to make up for possible delays in the video feed) or through live win odds, which are similar to what tennis books offer.
Avello said that “the vast majority” of table tennis bets are made during the game, while Sheeran said that “75%, maybe a little more,” of bets are made during the game.
All of this live-action is digital and is made possible by video streaming on sportsbook apps or websites. This is similar to a horse racing advance-deposit wagering platform, where you can bet on an event or race and watch it at the same time.
All of this fits with the numbers for the Philippines, where only $4,132 of more than $10,3 million in table tennis bets in October came from retail stores.
Not every operator can use it
Table tennis has been successful for online businesses, but it hasn’t found the same niche market in stores. Even though it could work in a store, like at a sportsbook in Las Vegas, it doesn’t seem worth it.
Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations at Westgate Las Vegas, said, “We don’t even offer it.” “I’ve seen people betting on some of those games on streams. It looks like they are playing in a garage in Russia.”
“Arbitrage players,” a term coined by Kornegay, are thought to be the ones who drive the online table tennis action.
“We can’t figure it out. Some people think that the revenue numbers are wrong, but I think it must be arbitrage players betting against each other,” he said. “Who wants to bet on this? It must be these people who do arbitrage. I don’t have any proof other than what my coworkers and people in the business in the Philippines tell me. There aren’t that many customers who bet on table tennis, but they bet a lot.
This goes against what Avello and Sheeran say about table tennis, which is that it is a leisure market with low limits but a never-ending stream of content. Sheeran said he thought there were table tennis games 20 hours a day.
Avello said, “It’s more than a few bets, and they’ve found their niche.” “When I look at the number of unique players, I see that there are a lot of people playing it all over the network. It’s not like there are only three of them. It’s a huge number.”
“The stakes for each bet are pretty low, which is how it’s meant to be,” Sheeran said. “It’s a hobby, and I wouldn’t expect it to be as interesting as the main sports.
Concerns about gaming problems and honesty
But does table tennis make it easier for people to get into trouble with gambling because it can be watched at almost any time of day and live action can be so fast-paced?
Keith Whyte, the head of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said, “People often say that sports betting is a game of skill and that people who bet on sports are less likely to have problems because they are so strategic about it.” “The market for table tennis betting puts that idea to the test in a big way. Most of us don’t know much about table tennis. That circuit isn’t well-known, and many of the things that help people make good decisions when they know a lot about a sport aren’t there. Gambling is also a game of chance, but many people who bet on sports do it just for the fun of it.
“From a clinical point of view, most people who have gambling problems may have started out as skill-based bettors, but they started to need action more than they needed to make smart bets. Any kind of gambling can become addicting, so we wouldn’t say that table tennis is more addicting than others. However, when you look at the risks, it seems that the way table tennis is played has a lot of things that may make it appealing.
Whyte pushed for more help for people who gamble on table tennis, like an extra pop-up ad or email to people who have gambled on table tennis, but operators and regulators are confident in their ability to spot problem gambling.
Avello said, “We’ve done a lot to make sure play is safe.” “We work with the International Center for Responsible Gaming and the Philippine Gaming Association. We know that some people have trouble shopping, eating, or gambling. We’ve taken all the steps we could to try to keep them safe.
“If someone says they have a problem with gaming and want to be cut off completely, we do that. We also have limits on deposits, and we keep an eye out for any problems that might come up over time.”
The same is true when it comes to issues of integrity. Since these table tennis leagues are in faraway places and most people don’t know about them, the operators are sure that analytics and analysis will catch any strange behavior.
Sheeran said, “We’ve dealt with integrity a lot in the past.” “It’s not a new problem in Europe. We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years in figuring out who’s telling the truth, and the limits in low-level table tennis are pretty low, so any bet that’s out of line will be caught right away.
But we don’t have to go back that far to find a scandal involving table tennis. Just a year ago, people were arrested in Australia for an alleged scheme, and the Philippines Division of Gaming stopped people from betting on table tennis events in Ukraine during the summer of 2020.
Dan Hartman, who is in charge of the Philippine Division of Gaming, said, “We work very closely with the operators.” “When the thing happened in Australia and people were arrested, it was right at the beginning for us. We had a very short conversation with the operators. We told them, “We’re seeing this, and we don’t like it.” We took that league and some of those players out of our catalog.
“The system works, and it works in the big leagues as well. Integrity has to do with the operators who look for these patterns, the integrity providers we talk to, and the alerts. Can you make it stop? No. But you can act quickly and stop us from going any further.”