(Bloomberg) -- What are U.S. gamblers turning to when most sports are dark? Eastern European table tennis.
Ping-Pong matches from Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly 60% of the wagers on DraftKings Inc. over the past week. Customers can stream matches through the DraftKings app. Of the bets, 76% are live betting, meaning odds placed on occurrences within each match.
“Ping-Pong is fun to watch,” Chief Executive Officer Jason Robins said on the Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast. “A silver lining here is that people are getting a chance to try new things that maybe they hadn’t before, and that some of them will like them and continue to play those games once other sports come back.”
Needless to say, relying on table tennis isn’t ideal at a time when sports-betting operators would normally be taking bets on NBA, NHL and MLB games, let alone March Madness, the biggest sports-betting event of the year. That said, Robins said DraftKings is leaning on new sports, and some new products, to help bridge the gap until the big games resume.
For example, the company has created free-to-enter pools around other types of entertainment, such as Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO, the CBS reality show “Survivor” and the Food Network show “Chopped,” all of which carry small prize pools. DraftKings also built a tournament around the last Democratic debate, offering options like, “What will Bernie Sanders say first, millionaire or billionaire?” (These events are free because gambling regulators traditionally disapprove of gambling on politics or pretaped shows.)
This weekend’s lineup includes free pools on the new season of HBO’s “Westworld,” and one for Nascar’s nationally televised esports race, in which real drivers will race each other in a video game. The company’s 22 posted pools had more than 284,000 entries as of Thursday morning.
DraftKings also offers some casino games, such as blackjack, in New Jersey. Overall, it is hoping that a diverse approach might keep users engaged as it weathers a rough period for all operators. The American Gaming Association has estimated that with casinos closed and sports going dark, a two-month slowdown across the industry would cost the U.S. economy $43.5 billion worth of activity.
“For us, the focus is on ensuring that we’re engaging our customers,” Robins said. “I think people appreciate that we’re coming up with cool new ideas for pools and games, and it’s keeping them occupied during a time when a lot of people are home and restless.”
DraftKings is in the process of going public through a three-way reverse merger. That could happen as early as next month, as shareholders in Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp. are set to vote on the deal on April 9.
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