As the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics gets well underway, gambling opportunities are beginning to emerge with plenty of moments to place a wager on either a specific event, or an outright bet on the medal market.
Events like this year’s competition, which officially began on 4 February, always herald a wave of new gambling opportunities, with bettors eager to place a wager on a host of specific events or an outright bet on the medal market.
But while the Winter Games, and other events of their ilk, generate plenty of excitement for the sports and betting industry, they also pose different bet monitoring and integrity challenges than more widely viewed sports.
Speaking to SBC News, Parimatch Tech Co-CEO, Roman Syrotian, explained how the Winter Olympics for the betting market is divided into three large categories; ice hockey, biathlon, and what he described as ‘the others’.
With the event having been regarded as ‘a niche sports betting market’, the Co-CEO of the gaming and entertainment technology provider firstly suggested that during the Winter Olympics most players on the betting market focus a lot of attention on attracting new clients toward ice hockey.
“Ice hockey is a major aspect that engages and captures the attention of millions of people, as well as one of the most popular sports among the clients, amassing over 40 million bets in 2021 alone,” he stated.
However, while admittedly less popular a spectacle than ice hockey, biathlon also has its spot among those sports popular with hundreds of thousands of people, especially across Europe.
Syrotian explained: “As for the rest of winter sports represented at the Winter Olympics, they are rather niche and range from a few thousands to a couple of hundreds of fans eager to place bets.
“Still, by adapting and scaling the infrastructure according to the needs of the market, we at Parimatch Tech have built an optimised platform that can sustain tens of thousands of sports events simultaneously, from the biggest tournaments to smaller, less noticeable events that still have their passionate fans.”
Looking more closely at betting trends across different countries, specifically in relation to national sporting preferences, Syrotian went on to explain that according to the company’s analytics, the most interest for the Winter Olympics comes from Eastern Europe and CIS.
“Considering that a significant number of winter sports are quite ‘exotic’, the overarching and unsurprising trend is the popularity of ice hockey,” he said. “We have also noticed a growing popularity of biathlon in these regions.”
The scale, and the often unusual nature of Winter Olympics sporting events, can pose additional challenges in relation to pricing and bet monitoring. Sports such as figure skating, for example, do not generate regular wagering events in the way that football or horse racing do.
In order to address this, especially in long-running tournaments such as the Winter Olympics with countless participants and featuring numerous different events, an effective data collection strategy is paramount.
Syrotian went on to say that these niche markets can also give rise to a greater number of integrity challenges than those experienced in more widely viewed sports such as football. He added: “If we are looking at the issue exclusively business-wise, the less popular the sport is compared to football, the more complications and challenges with bet monitoring betting companies face.
“Thing is, in football the worldwide betting line is massive and perfected by time. As for the other sports, the smaller and more niche they are, the less reliable the line tends to be. After all, the number of football specialists is comparatively higher than the number of bobsleigh specialists or figure skating specialists, hence the increased difficulty in assigning correct odds.
“There is also a global issue with certain maths models that are aimed at mainstream sports and are not honed for niche sports like curling.”
In recognition of the integrity challenges faced at this year’s Games, the International Olympic Committee recently moved to raise awareness of the issue by introducing eight brand ambassadors. Each was responsible for representing a different country and sport, as well as bolstering the information available on the subject on its website.
On the subject of the most popular sports from both the Summer and Winter Olympics in terms of bets, Syrotian concluded: “We would be comparing football, tennis, and volleyball with ice hockey, biathlon, and curling.
“Needless to say that even combined, the three winter sports don’t hold a candle to football alone. For example, the last Winter Olympics in terms of bets amounted to less than 1% from the sports tournaments in the world.”
With a growing number of athlete partnerships in the build up to the games, Harry Aitkenhead, PR Executive at Coral – a brand of Entain Plc – described the event as ‘hugely exciting’ for the company, whilst mentioning the enterprise’s partnership between its not-for-profit Foundation and Sports Aid supporting Niall Treacy competing in the 1000m speed skating event in Beijing.
Aitkenhead added: “Treacy is supported by Entain through this partnership between its Foundation and SportsAid, with the charity supporting aspiring elite athletes. Through this Entain is helping 50 up-and-coming sports stars across the country each year, providing each athlete with an annual award towards costs such as travel, accommodation and equipment.
“Everybody across the Entain network and business is hugely excited to watch Niall and proud to have been able to contribute in any small way to his journey to the games.” Furthermore, he also noted that events with a strong GB representation form the most popular individual markets, such as curling.
“The curling squads this time around feature almost exclusively athletes competing in their first games, however Eve Muirhead, who won bronze back in 2014, is back this winter and we would expect her to be the most popular person GB viewers and bettors focus on.”
When it comes to the most popular athletes who take part in the Winter Olympics in terms of bets placed, Sytrotain noted that the five top spots are taken by the following biathletes: Dorothea Wierer Corradini (Italy), Anaïs Bescond (France), Lisa Theresa Hauser (Austria), Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (France) and Tiril Kampenhaug Eckhoff (Norway).
Finally, in going back to its Summer counterpart, Aitkenhead claimed that ‘there is no doubt’ that the Winter event is a much less popular betting event than during the Summer, summerising, yet plenty of people will still enjoy gambling either a specific event at the winter games, or a punt on the medal markets.
He concluded: “In the lead up to the event, the most gold medals and most medal markets are always popular. This year Norway are the overwhelming favourites in both (1-5 for most medals, 1-4 for most gold medals) and having such a short priced favourite does unfortunately make the market less appealing.”