- This has been a huge year for sports betting in America, thanks in part to the striking down of PASPA.
- What were the five most-bet on events of 2018?
- If you can’t guess what’s #1, your betting license is revoked.
The 2018 sports-betting year was one of the most memorable on record.
Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia all legalized sports betting within their borders, opening up the pastime to millions more Americans.
Online sportsbooks also saw an uptick in action, especially on the biggest events of the year. Which ones brought in the most dough?
5. World Cup Final
If Croatia hadn’t upset England to reach the World Cup final, this game would have wound up higher on the list.
But even with the tiny underdog facing heavily favored France for the championship, the World Cup final was still the fifth-most bet on event of 2018.
Fans are celebrating France’s first World Cup victory in 20 years. The team defeated Croatia in the final with a score of 4-2 — the highest-scoring final since 1966. https://t.co/xFfcex0sf4 pic.twitter.com/ei4ZDJqhBT
— CNN (@CNN) July 15, 2018
Ultimately, bettors who backed Les Bleus as a heavy favorite (-220) wound up in the black. But it was a fun ride for everyone, as the 4-2 game was the highest scoring final in over 50 years.
4. NFL Thanksgiving
The striking down of PASPA, the law that banned sports betting in the majority of America, led to increased wagering on all sports, but the NFL in particular, long America’s favorite sport to bet on.
“As sports betting fever continues to sweep across America, we should be on pace for the most bet Thanksgiving ever.” — Zack Jones, Forbes.com
The three games on Thanksgiving 2018 featured the usual suspects — Detroit hosting Chicago and Dallas hosting Washington — plus what looked like an epic NFC South tilt between the unstoppable New Orleans Saints and arch-rival Atlanta Falcons.
Ultimately, none of the games wound up being classics, but that’s the thing about sports betting: all that matters is that the games look interesting on paper in the build up.
3. Kentucky Derby
Churchill Downs was the site of several records in 2018.
Not only was this year’s Kentucky Derby the wettest ever, it also generated the biggest betting handle for the racetrack in the 144-year history of the Run for the Roses.
— Racing Integrity (@ARCIntegrity) May 8, 2018
The big bets didn’t stop at the Churchill Downs gates, however. The Derby generated the third-most wagers at online sportsbooks in 2018, which likely made managers smile.
What would have made them frown, though, was that the betting favorite won for the sixth straight year.
While the odd individual bettor hits a windfall when a big longshot wins, overall it’s sportsbooks that come out furthest ahead when the chalk falters.
2. March Madness Final Four
One thing you can count on coinciding with every March Madness tournament is a serious decline in office productivity.
Another thing you can count on these days is big-time betting interest.
If you treat the Final Four as one event (which I realize is kind of cheating) it comes in at #2 on the list. Even without blue bloods like Duke, Kentucky, UNC, Louisville, Indiana, or UCLA, the Final Four still did billions in total business for online sportsbooks.
Americans bet a projected $10 billion on March Madness this year, much of it illegally. https://t.co/Mjie9UzRU8
— Marketplace (@Marketplace) April 9, 2018
Somewhat ironically, I guess that’s what you get when a 98-year-old nun captures the heart of America.
— Loyola Chicago (@LoyolaChicago) March 23, 2018
1. Super Bowl 52
Super Bowl 52 was a David vs Goliath story as backup QB Nick Foles attempted to conquer the indomitable Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The against-all-odds narrative led to huge betting numbers, even bigger than usual for the event that will always top this year-end list.
In Nevada alone, sportsbooks saw a record $159-million handle.
Nevada sportsbooks won $1.17 million on the Super Bowl off of a record $158.58 million bet.
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) February 5, 2018
If you want to get an early bet down on Super Bowl 53 — let’s be honest, you’re going to bet on it anyway; might as well do it now — have a look at our Super Bowl Odds Tracker.
It’s too big of a stretch to label these honorable mentions as single events (as they include multiple games/matches spread out over days), but they did big numbers for sportsbooks nonetheless.
Wimbledon would have come in at #4 on this list thanks to the resurgence of the most popular players in the sport, in particular Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal.
In the end, Djokovic won his fourth Wimbledon title, defeating huge underdog Kevin Anderson in straight sets in the final.
40. Isner and Anderson played the longest Wimbledon semi-final in history, lasting six hours and 36 minutes. Anderson won 7-6 (8-6) 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 26-24.
Wimbledon changed its 5th set structure a few months later. pic.twitter.com/YfVE2hZ6Af
— Matthew Willis (@MattRacquet) December 18, 2018
Notably, Anderson was coming off the second-longest match in Wimbledon history, defeating Jon Isner (7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4, 26-24) in the semis.
Djokovic also played an extended five-setter in the semis, but his match with Nadal wrapped at a gentlemanly 10-8 in the deciding set.
World Series: Red Sox vs Dodgers
If you treated the 2018 World Series as a single event, it would have been #5 on the list.
Baseball never generates the biggest handle at sportsbooks, but when you have two of the biggest markets in America — Boston and LA — going head to head, the dollars pour in.
NBA Finals: Warriors vs Cavaliers
The NBA Finals outperform the World Series almost every year, but it seems fans and bettors alike were put off by the fourth straight edition of Warriors vs Cavaliers.
The four-game series would have only been #6 on the list if treated as a single event.
Now that LeBron has taken his talents to La La Land, we’ll be saved a fifth straight Warriors/Cavaliers matchup in 2019 … well, barring some Sixth Man-style magic, anyway. The Cavaliers currently have worst odds to win the 2019 NBA title (tied with the likes of Atlanta, Chicago, and Phoenix).