In 2016, two years before single-event sports betting became legal in the United States — and more than five years before Canada followed the lead of its neighbour — Pat Mayo was hosting “the only golf gambling show on the internet” at that time.
A few weeks before that year’s Masters, Mayo noticed something was significantly askew with the early odds posted on Danny Willett to win the green jacket.
“Willett had climbed up to No. 13 or No. 12 in the world rankings and when we looked at the odds, he was at either 150-1 or 140-1 (to win) and that just didn’t make any sense,” said Mayo, president of Mayo Media Network and host of the “Pat Mayo Experience” sports betting podcast and shows.
“Normally a guy at around the top 10 in the world is at worst 50-1 or 45-1. We said, ‘This is the wrong number, so we may as well bet it.’”
Mayo and audience members who took his advice hit the jackpot when Jordan Spieth blew a five-stroke lead on the back nine at Augusta National. Spieth’s collapse kicked open the door for Willett to capture his one and only major championship.
“(The bet) paid for my wedding,” said Mayo, chuckling.
Today, Mayo finds himself in a more highly engaged world of golf and wagering after the ban on single-event betting in the United States was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018. The road to legalizing single-event betting in Canada has been a longer one. Until recently, only parlays (multiple wagers in a single bet) were legal, although Canadians have been wagering through online grey-market sportsbooks and those operated by organized crime to the tune of $14 billion annually.
“We’ve had (betting) for decades in this country, and we’re just trying to change the way we do it,” said Paul Burns, president of the Canadian Gaming Association.
An amendment to the criminal code, known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, received final approval from both the House of Commons and Senate at the end of June. It arrived after months of debate and voting on a private member’s bill introduced by Kevin Waugh, the Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Grasswood and a former sports broadcaster. The act came into law on Aug. 27 with provincial lottery corporations first out of the gate with single-event betting products. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s ProLine+ raked in more than $1 million in bets less than a week after launch.
The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic provided a glimpse into the potential for golf betting when the PGA Tour was one of the first professional sports to restart. Avid and casual gamblers came to realize the sport’s schedule gave them ample prep time before picking a tournament winner every week. Golf betting took off.
“It’s not super time-consuming and you can hit super long odds,” Mayo said. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you do your research, place your bets, and for four hours Thursday to Sunday you watch it play out. You bet on Jon Rahm to win and you get to have fun for four days if he’s in (the mix).”
In addition to putting down money on who will win, wagering on matchups — Who has the better day, Bryson DeChambeau or Brooks Koepka? — is a feature. Props, or live betting, are also attractive to fans looking to engage beyond the TV coverage, or while following online and on social media.
“Golf is arguably best positioned from an in-game betting perspective when you consider factors like time between shots, the number of shots, the number of players and 18 holes,” said Jeff Harris, director of financial advisory and leader of Deloitte Canada’s sports business advisory group. “It affords you the opportunity to take what was a three- to four-hour ‘lean-back’ experience and transition to a digestible, gamified ‘lean-in’ experience.”
Betting is also good for business, and leagues and organizations once steadfastly opposed have done an about face since the move to legalization. The PGA Tour, which once delivered a slap on the wrist to Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson for making a friendly $500 wager on a playoff involving Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, now has partnerships with Canadian-based theScore Bet, DraftKings, BetMGM, FanDuel and PointsBet. The LPGA Tour announced BetMGM as its official betting partner in May. DeChambeau has DraftKings in his stable of sponsors, and FanDuel announced in August a multi-year partnership with Jordan Spieth.
“I think it would be foolish not to be getting involved in this, there’s so much potential,” Spieth said in a news release. “It’s going to make the PGA Tour better for us by generating more interest because it was going to happen anyway.”
Here at home, the PGA Championship of Canada added BetRegal as its title sponsor in early August. Weeks later, Golf Canada introduced theScore Bet — whose parent company, Score Media, was recently sold for $2 billion to U.S.-based Penn National — as the official gaming partner of the national organization, CP Women’s Open and RBC Canadian Open.
With the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario on track to open the betting market to sportsbooks by the end of the year, a wave of sponsorship and partnership deals is expected across the Canadian sports industry this fall. Ontario is the fifth-largest territory in North America for eligible sports bettors.
TheScore Bet is all in on the 2022 CP Women’s Open in Ottawa, and the next three RBC Canadian Open tournaments across the province.
“We’re super, super excited,” said Craig Sharp, Golf Canada’s managing director. “(Betting) is another level of engagement for fans who can have a stake in what happens in golf. It’ll help them become bigger fans, and we’re really committed to supporting safe, responsible sports betting markets.”
Speaking of which, Mayo has some words of wisdom for betting neophytes.
“Have a budget every week that you’re OK with losing,” he said, before adding, “because you will lose.”
Steve McAllister is the editor-in-chief of The Parleh sports betting newsletter. A freelance contributor to the Star’s Sports section, he is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @StevieMacSports