In the four years since the last World Cup, crypto sports betting has grabbed headlines and powered the growth of a new breed of sportsbook brands. But with greater scrutiny and competition, challenges remain ahead of Qatar for one of gaming’s fastest growing corners.
One in every ten dollars bet on this year’s World Cup will be wagered in a cryptocurrency, according to data and projections from OddsGecko.com, an odds comparison website focused on the crypto sportsbook sector.
This would represent a significant handle for a relatively new corner of the sports betting industry, particularly with Qatar 2022 expected to generate more bets than the estimated €136 billion ($133.7 billion) wagered on the 2018 edition.
Since that last World Cup, betting on sports with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin has developed from a pursuit limited to a small group of early adopters to an activity enjoyed by a broad range of people who might not consider themselves crypto experts, but nonetheless are comfortable using them, according to Joe McCallum, director of sportsbook at Yolo Group, which operates the crypto-led brand Sportsbet.io.
Crypto.com among top sponsors
Cryptocurrency has never been more visible, and the World Cup will be no exception. Crypto.com, a cryptocurrency exchange, sits alongside the likes of McDonalds and Budweiser on the top tier of FIFA World Cup 2022 sponsors. In October, FIFA also announced the launch of a “virtual ecosystem”, known as FIFA World in the Roblox metaverse.
Such commercial partnerships are not without controversy. In September, Crypto.com pulled out of a reported £428m, five-year deal with UEFA to sponsor the Champions League, over concerns around increased crypto regulation.
Such controversies are not limited to exchanges. More than 30,000 people have signed a petition over recent weeks calling on Premier League team Everton to cancel Stake.com’s front-of-shirt sponsorship with the club.
Regardless, players continue to flock to crypto-focused betting brands. Another such operator, Cloudbet, which took its first bet in October 2013 when a Bitcoin could be purchased for just $150, says that’s because betting with cryptocurrencies confers significant advantages to the customer. These include faster deposits and withdrawals than using the SWIFT network, and unmatched security.
McCallum at Sportsbet.io adds that it can offer more generous bonuses to players from the savings it accrues by avoiding the onerous fees that come with card payments. Once they’ve tried crypto, players “rarely want to rush back to betting with traditional fiat currencies,” he adds.
Meanwhile David Evans, COO at the world’s first full-feature Bitcoin betting exchange, Exbet, says the operator has leveraged Bitcoin’s growth “as a flexible and secure payment alternative for bettors worldwide”. Exbet plans to add stablecoin and fiat payment options, but that Bitcoin remains a “key part” of the offering.
Productive marketing and sponsorship campaigns over the past four years mean that several of these crypto-focused betting brands are now positioned to compete with top tier online operators for a share of the World Cup spoils.
Sports sponsorships front and centre
“We’ve partnered over the past few years with some of the biggest names in sport – including Arsenal, Southampton, São Paulo, Watford and Flamengo – and this has really helped raise awareness of the benefits of cryptocurrency,” says McCallum.
The challenge for brands like Sportsbet.io and Stake will be balancing the needs of a more mainstream and less crypto-savvy audience with the early adopters that have helped them reach this stage.
McCallum at Sportsbet.io says it is important to stay on top of the latest trends in the crypto space. “Since 2018, we’ve seen a move away from Bitcoin,” he says. “It is still comfortably the most popular cryptocurrency for users wishing to place a bet, but other coins have established strong followings as betting currencies.”
Sportsbet.io now accepts deposits, wagers and withdrawals in several cryptocurrencies, including Tether, Ethereum, Litecoin, Tron, Ripple and Binance Coin. Data from OddsGecko suggests around 60 percent of cryptocurrency bets at the World Cup will be made with Bitcoin, down from around 90 percent in 2018, with Tether making up much of the difference.
Regulators stepping up….slowly
As the World Cup brings crypto sports betting into clearer focus, it could also accelerate moves to more fully regulate the industry.
Major gaming jurisdictions have been slow in adding provisions for cryptocurrency gaming, but that is beginning to change. Cryptocurrency payment providers licensed by the Malta Financial Services Authority are now permitted to provide services to MGA licensed gaming operators.
And in the US, a handful of states have made provision for crypto betting. Wyoming’s 2021 sports betting legislation permits sportsbooks to accept “crypto and virtual currencies”, while in June operator Barstool Sportsbook accepted its first crypto deposits in the states of Virginia and Colorado.
Calls for other regulatory bodies to better incorporate cryptocurrency sports betting are likely to grow louder following this year’s World Cup, with more players than ever turning to the leading brands. “This is a real opportunity to show punters the benefits of choosing to play with cryptocurrencies rather than fiat,” concludes McCallum.
It’s likely that when the 2026 edition of the FIFA World Cup rolls around, the crypto sports betting space will, once again, look very different.
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