Kara Endahl, a 28-year-old Manhattanite who works in the tech industry, started placing bets on sports games the first weekend New York launched its legal mobile wagering market in January.
“I’ve always been a sports-watching bystander,” Endahl says. “My boyfriend is extremely into sports, so for me when it became legal I thought to myself, ‘I’m watching these games anyway, I might as well get more invested in them and throw a few dollars here, a few dollars there.’”
A former cheerleader at the University of Texas at Austin, Endahl primarily bets on college football. (She’s a Longhorns fan and her boyfriend loves the University of Michigan.) During the College Football National Championship this year, she was watching the University of Georgia play the University of Alabama with a group of girlfriends and got them all to sign up for a gaming app using her referral code. For each new person who joined, she would get $50—soon she racked up $300. Now, Endahl and her friends gamble on sports regularly.
“Whenever there’s a big game that we’re all going to watch together we put down some money just for fun,” she says. “If you’re putting $5 here and there, you’re going to spend more on a beer.”
During March Madness this year, Endahl and her friends did a bracket pool. The stakes? The loser had to dress up like Spider-Man and go to a bar on a Saturday night. Otherwise, she always stays within her limits. “I’m frugal,” Endahl says. “You would never see me put $100 on a game.”
Women like Endahl are part of a rapidly growing trend. More than 4.6 million women joined sports betting apps in the U.S. last year—a 115% increase in the number of women users compared with 2020, according to a report by Global Wireless Solutions. The number of men on sports betting apps still exceeds the number of women by 250%, but the growth rate of women customers is nearly double than that of men (63%). GWS found that FanDuel brought in an estimated 1.7 million female customers last year, more than any other betting app. DraftKings brought in an estimated 900,000 women.
In 2019, the American Gaming Association found that 31% of core sports betting customers are women, while another study found that women make up 47% of all sports fans. Those who consider themselves fans are more than twice as likely to bet on sports, meaning there’s a willing customer base of women who are likely to become future sports gamblers. FanDuel CEO Amy Howe told Yahoo Finance that they see a “huge opportunity” and the company has been actively attempting to appeal to women.
Brendan Bussmann, the managing partner of B Global, a consulting firm focused on gaming and hospitality, says no one should be surprised that there’s a rise in the number of women betting on sports. “Operators are always looking to bring new players into the market,” says Bussmann. “We know women watch football, basketball and everything in between and the legalization of sports betting has helped extend that form of entertainment to them.”
Now that sports betting is legal in more than 30 states, up from a handful before the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, Bussmann says sports wagering companies are now evolving their advertising strategy to a more national scope in the hopes to expand their customer base. Reaching women is a big part of that strategy. “It’s all about market-share grab at this point and wherever these operators see a niche, they’re going after it,” he says.
Kelly Stewart, a sports handicapper and vice president and co-owner of WagerTalk, a sports betting news, picks and content publisher, says women are key to the expansion of the sports betting industry, which generated $4.29 billion in revenue from $57.2 billion in handle last year. A big force that has ushered in more women is how the industry evolved from in-person betting at casinos to mobile apps.
“The big thing is that it is less intimidating because you have a device in your hand and if you have a question, you don’t need to ask the person to your right,” says Stewart. “You just need to Google it.”
Growing up in Manhattan, Kansas, Stewart’s aunt would bring her to Kansas State football games and explain everything to her. And her father advised her on her first sports bet. She started to make a name for herself by betting successfully on underdogs in college football. In September 2011, she was living in Las Vegas and bet $100 on Rutgers to beat Arkansas, Oregon State to beat UCLA and Kansas State to best Oklahoma, at 85-1. She then bet all of them to win straight at $100 each. The parlay hit and she reaped $8,500. “It changed my entire life,” Stewart says, explaining how that bet helped her leave a nightclub job and become a sports betting media personality and handicapper.
At WagerTalk, 18% of their visitors are women, accounting for 11% of the company’s revenue for the current year to date. During the same time frame in 2019, 9% of the website’s visitors were women and only 2% of revenue came from this demographic. Stewart says over the last decade she’s witnessed a huge trajectory shift—not only are more women playing more sports, but they’re also more avid sports fans and legalization has created more gamblers.
She says the key to bringing more women into sports gambling is education. One of Stewart’s friends, a former NFL player, told her a story about how he was watching a game, and his daughter kept asking questions, and he got annoyed. He wanted to watch in peace. “That’s your first mistake,” she told him.“You need to answer her questions about why they went for it on fourth down here, but they didn’t earlier. If you want to get your daughter more involved, all you have to do is teach her.”