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Caitlin Clark & The WNBA: What Will Sports Betting Do For An Encore?

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 10 mins

Caitlin Clark & The WNBA: What Will Sports Betting Do For An Encore?

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Caitlin Clark makes her WNBA debut on Tuesday night as the league begins its 28th season. Clark pushed sports betting handles to record numbers during the NCAA Tournament. 

What can she do for an encore in the WNBA?

The NCAA women's final between Iowa and South Carolina was the most-watched college basketball game - men's or women's - since the NCAA men's final in 2019. 

Full stop. 

And that popularity carried into the betting space. Iowa's final three games in the NCAA Tournament each set a new record for the most amount of money wagered on a single women's sporting event in the United States. A study by Optimove claims Clark's presence boosted women's NCAA Tournament betting 540% over 2023. 

The Indiana Fever made Clark the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. They open the season at Connecticut. Tickets for the game at Mohegan Sun Arena-CT start at $95 plus fees for vivid seats. Tickets for Indiana Fever home games were sold in stages to accommodate as many fans as possible. The Fever will have 36 of its 40 games aired on national TV. 

Will the betting interest seen in the NCAA women's tournament carry over into the WNBA season, and beyond? 

"Clark has had a tremendous effect and I’m hoping that this does carry over to future years for the women’s college game.  New stars need to emerge each year. I’m optimistic that Clark will do the same for the WNBA but only time will tell. If she can become dominant in that league, I think we have a great chance of seeing the popularity carry over into the betting space," said Borgata AC Director of Race and Sports Thomas Gable

Circa Sports Director of Operations Jeffrey Benson tells bookies "I'd imagine an uptick in WNBA wagering." 

Clark has already absorbed 74% of the handle at FanDuel in its 2024 WNBA MVP futures market. 

Betting Handle Follows Growth In Popularity 

Caitlin Clark & The WNBA: What Will Sports Betting Do For An Encore? 1

Martin Lycka is SVP of American Regulatory Affairs & Responsible Gambling at Entain, the parent company of  BetMGM and Ladbrokes. He sees the tidal wave of betting that Clark brought into the NCAA Tournament as a result of her star power, in much the same way that Taylor Swift's relationship with Travis Kelce boosted interest in this past NFL season.

"Betting is a lagging indicator," Lycka told bookies.com. "Because of Clark, there was more interest in women's basketball. More coverage. A lot of media focus. The marketers in this industry can quickly figure out what catches the eye of the public. And they put that at the center of attention for all the betting opportunities around March Madness." 

Lycka believes next year's NCAA Tournament will be a real test in terms of betting because of Clark's move to the WNBA. 

"The critical factor is the superstar," he said. "Caitlin Clark checked so many boxes it generated almost as much hype as Travis and Taylor." 

Does that favor those who expect a boost in WNBA betting this season? 

"The WNBA is one of the leagues and sports gaining more prominence. Caitlin Clark's arrival will certainly boost that. She will attract more attention to the league and make it more interesting as a betting proposition. And generate more stories. Betting follows popularity patterns."

Operators Prepared For WNBA Betting Boost

2024 WNBA Championship Odds 

Team Current Odds Open Odds Ticket % Handle % Sportsbook
Las Vegas Aces +110 +115 48.9 19.0
N.Y. Liberty +230 +250 7.0 10.4
Seattle Storm +1000 +1100 3.7 3.4
Connecticut Sun +1100 +1100 2.5 3.1
Indiana Fever +1800 +2500 48.9 29.0
Dallas Wings +2200 +1200 0.6 0.4
Phoenix Mercury +3500 +2000 2.8 0.8
Minnesota Lynx +5000 +5000 1.7 0.6
Atlanta Dream +6000 +5000 0.6 0.2
Washington Mystics +8000 +6600 1.1 0.2
Chicago Sky +4500 +8000 11.0 7.6
L.A. Sparks +8000 +8000 4.2 2.8

BetMGM has the Las Vegas Aces as +100 favorites as noted above to repeat as WNBA champions. Clark's Fever has moved from +2500 at the open to +1800 after peaking at +1100. 

Books are prepared for whatever might happen. 

Caesars Sportsbook treats the WNBA no differently to the NBA. We are always looking to improve markets and even add additional in-play markets. With the new batch of college superstars heading to the WNBA, we expect even more interest this season,” Vice President of Trading, Craig Mucklow told bookies.com 

Others expect betting momentum from the NCAA Tournament to carry over into the WNBA season. 

"We saw each of the Final Four games and the Championship game register as the 3 most popularly bet women's basketball games on our book ever. The hope is that this continues into the next NCAAW season and the momentum on Clark/(Angel) Reese specifically elevates the WNBA numbers next season, as well," Sunny Gupta, Head of Trading at Tipico
 Sportsbook, told bookies.com. 

BetMGM's John Ewing said his book also expects "more action on the WNBA this year driven by Caitlin Clark." It will offer game and player props where allowed.

Fanatics launched in Illinois on April 3, It is now operating in 19 states and will soon launch in New Jersey. It bought PointsBet USA last year. 

"This tournament taught me that people love to engage with a good narrative regardless of the sport and I hope we can continue to capture that. I’m interested to see how this will translate to increased action for the upcoming WNBA season,” Fanatics college basketball trader Shank Subramani said a company release. 

'No Comparison' Between Men & Women

Caitlin Clark & The WNBA: What Will Sports Betting Do For An Encore? 2

DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars Sportsbook, ESPN BET, and BetMGM all reported that the Iowa-South Carolina, Iowa-UConn and Iowa-LSU games were No. 1 all-time at their book at the time in terms of handle for any women's contest across all sports. Those companies represent more than 85% of the legal sports betting market in this country. The Supreme Court cleared the way for nationwide sports betting in 2018. 

While the women's title game easily eclipsed the men's final between UConn and Purdue in terms of TV viewers, the betting handle on the men's title game still dwarfed the total women's championship game. 

"The sportsbook was full and it brought out a lot of casual bettors who were drawn in by Clark. However, when comparing it to the handle of the men’s final, there still is really no comparison," Gable said.  "We have seen the interest grow tremendously year over year for the women’s tournament but it still has a long way to go to compare to the men’s which is essentially the most bet-on event of the year outside of the Super Bowl, and actually exceeds the Super Bowl when you take the tournament as a whole."

The situation was similar at Fanatics. The women's tournament was huge, but still fell far short of the men's when it came overall handle, or the championship game. That book had 11 men's tournament games that drew a larger betting handle than the Iowa-South Carolina women's final. 

“I knew that the women’s tournament would do well if we got the right matchups,” Subramani said. “We were lucky to have Caitlin Clark and Iowa face LSU in a national title rematch, a historic program in UConn and an undefeated South Carolina team for the championship. The South Carolina-Iowa game finishing 12th in handle among all games across both tournaments was pretty cool to see."

Iowa lost to South Carolina 87-75 in the national championship game . The unbeaten Gamecocks closed their 39-0 season with a cover on the 6.5-point spread. The total went over the closing number of 160.5.

"A big game is a big game," said Hard Rock's Jon Chapper. Florida is the biggest state in the nation with legal sports betting and the Hard Rock Bet app and retail book has a monopoly on legal wagering in the Sunshine State. 

"The women’s tournament final was extremely popular, and Hard Rock Bet took more bets on the Iowa-South Carolina game than any regular season college basketball game (men’s or women’s). Overall (including the men’s postseason), it was our 11th most popular game of the season," Chapper told bookies.com. "The men’s final was our most popular basketball game of the season so far – college or pro."

Major Boost In Women's Betting This Year

Caitlin Clark & The WNBA: What Will Sports Betting Do For An Encore? 3

Here's a look at the women's national championship betting data from FanDuel: 

  • Iowa-South Carolina broke the handle record set by Iowa-UConn semifinal game by 22%.
  • Iowa-South Carolina was the No. 1 betting event on its day, ahead of all other sporting events including the NBA, NHL, and MLB.
  • 2024 National Championship game garnered a 155% increase in handle and 205% increase in bet count over the 2023 National Championship.

At BetMGM, the public switched allegiances in the national championship game with 63% of the spread handle backing South Carolina. But Iowa grabbed 73% of the moneyline handle at +200.

Iowa had 31.1% of the overall title futures handle, while South Carolina absorbed 30.7%.

Sports betting has been legal in Iowa since 2019. Clark is 22. The legal age to wager in Iowa is 21. While Clark has received an estimated $3.1 million in NIL sponsorship money, she is not able to cash in on her team's success at the betting window. The NCAA has strict rules in place that prohibit college athletes, coaches, assistants, or anyone else involved in collegiate athletics from gambling on any sport the NCAA sponsors at any level. 

NCAA president Charlie Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts and a former player at Harvard, last week renewed his push for a nationwide ban on college player prop bets. Massachusetts and Colorado prohibited those markets when those states legalized sports betting. This year, Ohio, Vermont, and Maryland shuttered betting on college player props. Louisiana is likely to do so, soon, as well. 

Ahead of the NCAA tournament, DraftKings reported that women’s basketball games have increased an astonishing 14x over the previous season, and the number of bets has increased 13x. 

“Definitely seeing that fan appreciation for big games (e.g. #8 LSU v #1 SC) and big moments like @CaitlinClark22's all-time points record!” DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish posted on X on March 6. 

DraftKings launched in three states since the end of last season: Kentucky, Vermont, and Maine. Thus, some of its increase can be attributed to a larger betting pool. DraftKings was one of eight operators who went live in North Carolina on March 11. 

Clark’s influence was clear. Oddsmakers said she is drove money toward her team more effectively than any single player in men’s or women’s college basketball. 

“She’s definitely had a huge effect,” Caesars Director of Trading Adam Pullen told bookies.com in March. “You can definitely see it when Iowa is playing. It is getting the most handle across the country. She is raising awareness of women’s basketball by being on a national stage. People pick up on it.” 

The wagers being placed on women’s basketball have matured along with the betting market. Pullen sees the same variety of plays as he does on other events. 

“We get plenty of sharp plays. Everything we put up attracts sharp bettors. That’s not going to change,” he said. “Casual bettors have flocked to women’s basketball. But the sharp players are always going to be there. They’re going to be on the lookout for a good number no matter what it is.” 

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About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.