Sports betting has enjoyed a rapid expansion in the United States over the past year, with eight states now taking part in a legalized market. WWE has enjoyed a similarly lucrative year, with a pair of television deals worth over $2 billion over the next five years.
You wouldn't expect those two enterprises to overlap in any way, no matter how often WWE seeks an air of legitimacy in leaning toward the sports side of sports entertainment. In reality, however, there are ways to wager on the outcome of WWE matches -- and no one event in the world of WWE is capable of catering to the world of betting props than the Royal Rumble, which takes place on Sunday.
These bets aren't something you'll see offered at an American sportsbook anytime soon, due to strict regulation of what can and can't be wagered upon, but a variety of offshore books and European sportsbooks have been offering odds on WWE match outcomes for the better part of the last decade. Despite the scripted nature of the WWE, the ability to change outcomes up until wrestlers walk out to the ring (and sometimes even later) gives betting on WWE a different feel than anything else that might fall under an entertainment bet.
It still doesn't change the fact that one or a few people are dictating the outcomes of every match.
"Everyone always asks me, 'How can you put up odds on something that's predetermined?" said Adam Burns, sportsbook manager for BetOnline.ag. "And it comes down to this: There's not huge limits. You can't bet $10,000 on who's gonna win it, but you can bet a couple hundred bucks, have some fun with it. It's more for us to get people engaged."
Offshore books like BetOnline and Bovada are leading the way in terms of betting options for the 2019 Royal Rumble. Those with interest can bet on more than 50 different men to win the men's Royal Rumble match and more than 45 different women to win the women's Royal Rumble match -- but it goes deeper. Just as Super Bowl props have continued to expand over the years as they've garnered more attention, this year's offerings from those two sites and a variety of others include odds on longest time spent in the Royal Rumble, most eliminations and odds of making the final 4, among other wagers.
That brings up another interesting question, though: Who is actually setting these lines for the sportsbooks?
"I have a guy who is a die-hard WWE [fan] and he knows, he watches everything and he follows everything," said Burns. "He calculates it and puts it into percentages of what he thinks. He follows all the storylines and all the Twitter rumors. The fact is, we're comfortable doing that because it attracts some clients, people have fun with it. To be honest, we don't have inside information. We put it up just for people to get engaged, have fun -- and, well, the lines will move a lot."
As for who's betting on WWE events, there's at least some crossover between the worlds of sports betting and wrestling enthusiasm. For example, an attorney from California who goes by @kaponofor3 on Twitter -- he would prefer not to reveal his name -- includes bets on WWE within his overall portfolio of betting action. He's been watching wrestling for more than three decades, and he's wagered on WWE action since at least 2011; his earliest recollection of finding odds listed was for WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta.
"I watch probably two to four hours of wrestling a week at present," @kaponofor3 said. "I have two young sons and one of them is pretty into it, but given the times of the weekly shows, we don't always watch them all. But we watch some recap shows and I try to catch weekly NXT shows -- but I will be watching all the major pay-per-views with them."
That kind of knowledge and dedication, when translated to a traditional sport, would typically translate to a relatively strong understanding of the product and an edge when it comes to the betting market. When it comes to WWE, however, the nature of the betting and the markets offered aren't nearly enough to retire on.
What's more, if there's even a whiff of expertise -- or worse, inside knowledge -- you won't be able to cash in for long.
"Caps are usually very low -- maybe $100 tops, until you dust them once or twice," @kaponofor3 said. "Then it's either [you're] eliminated [from betting] or limited to like $5. I think the most I risked was $100 on a relatively small 'dog, but I could be wrong."
As far as whether or not these types of bets could find their way into an American sports betting market as it expands and the stigma fades away, it make sense to turn toward the betting capital of the world -- Las Vegas -- to search for indicators. As you might expect, the chances are essentially slim-to-none.
"Nevada has a pretty strict line on what can and can't be offered to bettors, said Alan Berg, senior oddsmaker and trader at Caesars Entertainment. "Up until a few years ago sportsbooks weren't allowed to book [bets on] Super Bowl MVP. I think the rule of thumb was if it isn't determined on the field and can be decided by opinion, it wouldn't be offered by sports books."
A check-in with the Nevada Gaming Control Board backs up that level of pessimism. The market for what types of events can be wagered upon is expanding, albeit slowly, but will almost certainly never included scripted or predetermined events like the WWE. Outside of horse races, greyhound races and athletic events, there has been approval on events like the World Series of Poker, awards in a variety of sports including MVPs and the Heisman Trophy, draft outcomes in several sports and even a few esports and competitive video gaming bets approved, including League of Legends and the 2018 Golden Tee World Championship.
There has been some consideration of accepting wagers on elections, including some dialogue and discussion by Nevada state legislators in the past, but no bill has ever been passed. One need only look at the massive swings that the WWE betting market encounters on the day of a show to know that Vegas wouldn't want a whiff of WWE wagering.
Recalling a match from that WrestleMania 27 card, in which The Miz defeated John Cena with multiple interruptions from The Rock, @kaponofor3 said that particularly stuck out to him in terms of how finely an outcome can be parsed.
"It's more for entertainment value, but when there's value, there's value -- that's kind of how I see it," said @kaponofor3. "The Miz/Cena main event grading led 5dimes to do something I'd never seen before, offer two prices on the same match -- one for 'immediately after the bell rings' and the other was something like "at the end of the show.'"
What's crazier is the dramatic run of action on certain wrestlers once the predetermined outcome seems fairly clear.
"I remember when a match taking place at WrestleMania  had Zack Ryder at 20-1 to win an Intercontinental [championship] ladder match," Berg said. "He closed as the favorite at -2000 against six other opponents."
Though some may credit rumors or hearsay, there's at least some evidence that points heavily toward a source with inside information leaking it to a few friends -- especially when the odds are long. From his perspective and experience, Burns largely dismisses that element of the WWE betting market.
"Especially the day of, you'll see massive swings in the odds and we're looking at how the money's coming in -- and also [see] if there's any rumors out there, or any spoilers or people on Twitter and stuff like that. Our guys are watching that all the time. But, believe it or not, a lot of times some of these rumors are all bulls--- and people buy into it and then the opposite happens."
At the end of the day, all parties involved admit that the allure of being able to bet on the WWE is more about entertainment value than it is about striking it rich. For the players, it's about having some action on the result, trying to find a decent value, and if a win can be earned, the night's result can be a little bit sweeter.
"The swings [in the odds] can be massive," @kaponofor3 said. "Vince [McMahon] can always change his mind up to the last minute on the big stuff, so you never really know. I only bet [under]dogs exclusively where I could see the story of them winning. [I] also have to be cognizant that a DQ or countout is technically a win for the other side, which is sneaky and has to take storyline into consideration."
From the sportsbooks' perspective, it's really about attracting new customers that would otherwise be unlikely to place a bet. It's not an act of charity, though. There are still sucker bets like there would be in any other game of chance or betting endeavor, although the limited wagering cap tends to limit the damage for those who like to put down action on some long shots.
"We'll throw in guys like Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, "Stone Cold" [Steve Austin], because you never know. It's entertainment, right? So, they might just show up and be in it and you never, like you have no idea. I think we try to have some fun with that. And believe it or not, people will bet on those guys.
"We're gonna be wrong on some of these," Burns continued. "We're not going to be 100 percent correct in the order of the odds and all this stuff, but I'm pretty confident in my wrestling guy that he knows pretty much what he's doing."