Indiana Sportsbooks Keep Adding Sports, But NWSL Remains On The Outs

Posted on April 7, 2020 - Last Updated on April 22, 2020

GamWhen the state of Indiana first launched regulated legal sports betting in September 2019, the list of events approved for wagering was smaller than it is now. In the current climate, the continued absence of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) betting from that list is more difficult to explain away.

The Indiana Gaming Commission’s forward-thinking in similar sports and quick response to the industry points to one conclusion. The blame belongs to the short-sightedness of sportsbook operators.

Why it’s curious that NWSL betting remains absent

The NWSL is the top level of club soccer in the US. It’s also the longest-running and most successful sports league for women in the US. New Jersey has already added it to its approved events list.

Earlier this year, it sold its broadcast rights to CBS. A total of 58 players, who represented their countries in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, also played for NWSL clubs last year.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup drew great interest from sportsbook operators, which created markets for the tournament and its matches. Now, as many of the same players train privately for what they hope will be a 2020 season, sportsbook operators have inexplicably shied away from them.

There’s a recent example of that in the Hoosier State. On March 19, the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) added 11 events to the “Approved Events for Sports Wagering” list. On April 6, the IGC made another addition, allowing Belarusian soccer betting.

While the IGC added Australia’s National Basketball League and the US Open Cup, the NWSL remains absent. Understanding why requires some explanation.

Why the IGC isn’t really to blame in this situation

The IGC did construct the original list, excluding the NWSL. Since then, however, the IGC has taken a more reactionary approach to alter or add to the list.

When the IGC adds new events, it’s now likely a response to a request from a license holder in the state. It’s unlikely that the IGC has received such a request from an Indiana sportsbook operator to take action on NWSL matches and denied that request.

The fact that the IGC approved wagering on the WNBA Draft on its initial list points toward the commission being open-minded to what licensees can take action on. It’s only a failure by the sportsbooks to see the value in the NWSL.

The lack of action on this front by sportsbook operators comes off as short-sighted at best and misogynistic at worst. The one thing that all the new events added on April 6 and March 19 had in common is that they are events for men.

Why the arguments against approval for NWSL matches are weak

There is no guarantee that the NWSL will play its 2020 season right now. At the very least, the season won’t start as previously scheduled on April 18.

That delay and uncertainty didn’t prevent sportsbooks from requesting approval of the NBB (Brazil’s version of the NBA). The NBB, like the NBA, has suspended its season with no clear timeline for resuming play.

In fairness, sportsbooks could have requested to add NBB betting long before the suspension. It’s uncertain how long it takes the IGC to process such requests.

A sportsbook operator might argue that demand for NWSL betting is low. That argument is questionable, however, because there’s little if any hard data to support that statement.

It’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a valid argument. If the sportsbooks never create markets for the league and promote those markets, then bettors will never have an opportunity to prove that assumption false.

For Indiana operators, it’s hard to justify given the local connection to the league as well. Chicago’s NWSL club, the Red Stars, played for the NWSL Cup last season. The team features some of the biggest stars in the league, like Alyssa Naeher and Julie Ertz.

The lack of a local connection argument falls especially flat when there are thousands of miles between Indiana and the nearest South African cricket clubs. Regardless of that distance, the Momentum One Day Cup is now on Indiana’s approved events list.

At a time when legal sportsbooks are taking action on darts and sumo wrestling, it’s hard to understand why a league that features some of the best athletes in the most popular sport in the world continues to be absent from the list of approved events in Indiana. The only explanations seem to be misogyny and small-mindedness.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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