The Winter Olympic Games concluded last weekend in Beijing, China, and provincial sportsbooks across Canada were pleasantly surprised with the betting interest in many of the events, especially curling and hockey.
Canadian athletes claimed 26 medals — four gold, eight silver, and 14 bronze — at this year’s Games, trailing only Germany, the Russian Olympic Committee, and Norway in medal count. Curling and hockey have been strong events historically for Canada, but the country only walked away with two medals — a bronze in men’s curling and a gold in women’s hockey — across five disciplines in the two events.
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, over 70% of Canadians — 26.5 million unique viewers — tuned in for coverage of the Winter Olympics. Canadians streamed over 468 million minutes of video content, making it the most-streamed Games ever on the network.
Roughly half of CBC’s Olympic viewers watched an average of 102 minutes each night in prime time for 15 of the 16 days of competition, with numbers drastically dropping off for one night due to the Super Bowl on Feb. 13. The numbers were impressive considering most of the live action from Beijing was overnight across Canadian time zones.
High public interest in the Olympics also translated into a good online sports betting turnout in Canada for the various events. This is the first Olympics for which single-event wagering was permitted across Canada.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which provides the only legal sports betting option in the province through its PROLINE + platform, is not sharing specific handle numbers, but its communications department told Sports Handle it had “very good customer interest” in the Winter Olympics.
The British Columbia Lottery Corporation also had a successful Olympics with its PlayNow platform, with spokesman Matt Lee crediting the ability to place single-game wagers and an increased number of offerings on more obscure sports such as bobsled and speed skating.
Both the men’s and women’s hockey events were, far and away, the most popular events of these Olympics on PROLINE+ despite a number of negative factors, including a lack of NHL participants, unfavorable start times in North America, and a poor finish by Canada’s men’s team, which lost to Sweden in the quarterfinals.
Roughly 2.7 million people watched Team Canada take on Team USA in the women’s hockey gold medal game on Canadian networks, even though the game didn’t start until 11:30 p.m. ET. The game also drew a massive audience in the United States.
“The gold medal game, in particular, was the most popular event of the Games despite its late start time. Sales for this game were 70% more than even the highest men’s game (vs. China) and higher than the average NHL game during this period,” OLG Director of Communications Tony Bitonti said.
Gamblers took the Canadian women on the moneyline at an 80% clip, resulting in a huge win for the bettors, but OLG also saw significant action on Canada -1.5 (72%) and over 5.5 goals (77%), with both of those outcomes falling the way of the book.
Of the 31 possible “Correct Score” markets OLG offered, 16% of players predicted the exact 3-2 score for Canada, at an average price of 13-to-1.
“On PlayNow.com, hockey was the most popular Olympic sport to bet on, with men’s and women’s hockey accounting for 78% of all Olympic bets made by players,” Lee said. “There was significant player interest in Team Canada events, specifically Canada’s men’s and women’s hockey games. The women’s hockey gold medal game between Canada and the U.S. was by far the most popular event to bet on for the Olympics on PlayNow.com. In fact, that game was more popular amongst PlayNow.com players than the majority of NHL games this season.”
Curling and other events
Curling was the second-most popular event of the Olympics, as Brad Gushue and his Canadian men’s team picked up a bronze medal.
“The most popular curling events of the Games were actually a pair of men’s and women’s round robin games — Gushue vs. Italy and [Jennifer] Jones vs. ROC — both of which ended favorably for our players,” Bitonti noted.
As far as curling outright gold medal odds, Canada was favored across all three curling disciplines — mixed, men’s, and women’s — but failed to grasp a gold medal, making it a big win for the books.
Outside of hockey, curling was also the second-most popular sport amongst PlayNow.com players during the Olympics, accounting for 18% of Winter Olympic bets.
PROLINE + bettors were also interested in the speed skating events. The 14 events combined made for the third-highest sales/sport with the women’s team pursuit, which Canada claimed gold in, being the most popular. Snowboarding events also received action from Ontario bettors in the men’s slopestyle and big air competitions, where a pair of Canadians — Max Parrot and Mark McMorris — combined for a gold medal and two bronze.
Future of Olympic betting
The sports betting landscape in Canada will be drastically different for the next Olympics in Paris in summer of 2024. With over 30 private operators set to launch in Ontario’s regulated iGaming market on April 4, Ontario bettors will have all kinds of new offerings to choose from as companies compete for their betting dollars. If Ontario’s open market is a success, other provinces could also adopt the model and open up their respective markets to private operators in the months and years to come.
The location of the next Games will also benefit sportsbooks and bettors, as Paris is only six hours ahead of Eastern Time in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province with roughly 15 million people. With most of the live action in Beijing taking place during the overnight hours across Canada, peak audiences were limited to those willing to stay up late to catch their favorite events. With a more favorable time zone, TV networks and sportsbooks could see record numbers.