Sportsbooks, states taking varying approaches to betting on LIV tournaments

American bookmakers and state gaming regulators are taking varying approaches to the upstart LIV golf tour, as it makes its debut in the United States this week at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland, Oregon.

LIV’s initial event took place in early June and attracted minimal betting at U.S. sportsbooks, but bookmakers are expecting increased interest this week in the handful of states that allow wagering on the fledgling golf tour.

Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Washington are among the states that granted approval for licensed sportsbooks to take bets on LIV events. Tennessee, according to gaming industry sources, declined sportsbooks’ requests to allow wagering on LIV events. (The Tennessee Sports Wagering Committee did not immediately respond to an email from ESPN seeking comment.) Other states, including New York, also have been hesitant to deem LIV tournaments as approved betting events, according to the sources.

BetRivers, Caesars Sportsbooks, DraftKings, PointsBet and the SuperBook are among the sportsbooks planning to offer betting on the LIV event in the approved states. DraftKings also is offering a daily fantasy contest on this week’s event. FanDuel and Circa Sports have not posted odds on the LIV event yet.

Dustin Johnson is the consensus favorite, listed at 8-1 at the SuperBook. Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer are each 12-1. Phil Mickelson is 80-1.

The SuperBook is offering odds to win the tournament and a select few head-to-head matchups. It is not offering any bet on the team event, which takes place throughout the LIV tour season.

Jeff Sherman, a longtime Nevada bookmaker with the SuperBook, said the first LIV tournament in London attracted roughly one-seventh of the betting handle that was drawn by the RBC Canadian Open, the PGA Tour event that took place the same week.

“The handle was a little bit higher than I thought it would be for the first LIV event,” Sherman said.

Sherman is expecting increased betting interest in this week’s LIV event, but still believes the John Deere Classic will generate more handle.

“You’re not going to find any PGA Tour field as poor as this one [at the John Deere Classic]. For a standalone PGA event, this is about as poor as it gets for quality of field,” Sherman said. “We’ll be interested to see how much LIV stands up to that.

“I have my doubts that it’s going to pass it, even though the LIV field is much more attractive name-wise,” Sherman added. “With the PGA Tour, the TV and visibility is a big difference. I think we’ll improve off the first LIV, because now it’s in the United States versus being in London. I’d still make the PGA Tour a small favorite to have higher handle, but I think it’s going to be really close this week.”

The Saudi Arabian-financed LIV Golf circuit has been surrounded in controversy since its start. Saudi Arabia has been accused of human rights violations, and the country’s leadership was linked to the 2018 kidnapping and murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to U.S. intelligence. Players have faced pointed questions from the media on their willingness to participate in the LIV tour.

Sportsbooks around the world, however, are moving forward with offering betting on LIV. But it hasn’t been a smooth start. Issues with the data feed and broadcast hindered betting on the first LIV event at some European sportsbooks, especially with live wagering, which has become increasing popular in golf.

“While it did not meet the turnover of the RBC Canadian, we expect that to increase given the stronger and better field in comparison to the PGA tour this week,” Rachael Kane, a spokesperson for Irish sportsbook Paddy Power, told ESPN in an email. “It’s been enjoyable to watch and to trade on, despite the leaderboards being top heavy. The laggy coverage has been challenging from a trading point of view too, but thankfully it hasn’t had any impact on our customers with all markets still available.”

The PGA Tour has embraced the expanding legal sports betting market in the U.S., forming partnerships with American sportsbooks and working with data companies to fuel live betting on tournaments. A spokesperson for LIV told ESPN that while the circuit is not ready to immediately jump into the betting space, it is “excited about the prospect as our format and team play creates new opportunities.”

Many upstart sports leagues have looked to betting as a vehicle to increase popularity and exposure, but some stakeholders in the betting space haven’t seen the demand yet for LIV.

“It’s always fascinating to see what these new up-and-coming challenger leagues are trying to do in the [betting] space,” said David Woodley, CEO and president of Playmaker, a multiplatform media outlet that provides betting content to its younger audience base. “You have to have the demand there too. What is LIV going to do to get someone to bet on it versus the PGA? And I just don’t know.”