Caitlin Clark behind increased betting interest in women’s college basketball

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark celebrates after the overtime win of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in the final of the Big Ten women's tournament, Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark celebrates after the overtime win of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in the final of the Big Ten women’s tournament, Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Caitlin Clark’s audacious logo 3-pointers and record-breaking accomplishments have driven sports fans who previously wouldn’t walk across the street to watch women’s basketball to set their DVRs for Iowa games.

Bettors have taken an interest, too, using some of their discretionary money on Clark and the Hawkeyes, the top seed in the Albany Regional 2 of the NCAA Tournament. Iowa plays Holy Cross or UT Martin in the first round Saturday.

Caesars Sportsbook reported the number of bets on women’s college basketball games this season compared to a year ago was 190% higher with 153% more money wagered.

“We saw the momentum slowly build toward the end of the regular season last year and then into the tournament,” said Grant Tucker, who heads up college basketball trading for Caesars. “Obviously, Iowa had that great run all the way to the final. So as the tournament went along, the betting increased. Her superstardom grew.

“It all tied in perfectly when you think of (name, image and likeness) and all the stuff going on. We really have never seen a college athlete like this, especially in the women’s game in any sport.”

Caesars and BetMGM plan to offer proposition bets around Clark, and her popularity has created a spillover effect for other women’s college basketball teams. Tucker said Caesars has gone from posting four or five women’s games on any given day to 12 to 15.

She also has affected futures bets, with Iowa going from 12-1 at Caesars to win the national championship to 6-1 because of the money from casual gamblers. The pros haven’t jumped in, preferring to stick with South Carolina, which is a minus-135 favorite.

“I think what’s great about Caitlin Clark is it’s changed a little bit the dynamics of college basketball,” said Derek Stevens, owner of several downtown Las Vegas casinos, including Circa. “The interest in women’s college basketball has definitely taken a big upturn in the last two seasons, and Iowa and Caitlin Clark is the reason. I think it’s something that’s fun. People are liking it. We’re showing it inside Circa Las Vegas, so it’s pretty awesome to see how this has developed.”

Sheldon Jacobson, who operates the site BracketOdds, said brackets remain enormously more popular for the men’s tournament, at a 60-to-1 ratio, but Clark has created more interest for the women.

“When you have Caitlin Clark playing, the longer the Iowa Hawkeyes survive, the more interest there will be,” Jacobson said. “She’s become a rock star among the women’s basketball players, and that’s great for the game. It’s great for the sport, and I hope it continues. Certainly, she’ll be greatly missed when she finishes her career in just a few weeks.”

Which leaves women’s college basketball at a little bit of a crossroads.

Clark will be a difficult act to follow, though USC freshman JuJu Watkins is showing she might have the game to do just that.

“It’s more than just play, it’s also personality,” Jacobson said. “It’s really the whole gestalt. (Clark) really brings something special to the game. I intentionally watched some of the games on TV when she was playing just because she was so interesting to watch. She brings something special to the game, and that’s great for the sport.”

Tucker said he expects some regression in interest when Clark heads to the WNBA after this season, but her departure won’t completely stall the momentum for women’s college basketball.

“Her stardom is very unique,” Tucker said. “NIL is here to stay. There are more stars to come, but I don’t know if anybody can really be at the level of Caitlin Clark. I wouldn’t say it would go down to how it was four or five years ago, but I don’t know if this is really sustainable long term.”

NOTABLE MEN’S BETTING

Tucker said Creighton and McNeese State have taken some notable action on futures bets for the men’s NCAA Tournament.

As for notable line moves, he said Drake has gone from a pick ‘em with Washington State to a 1 1/2-point favorite, BYU has risen two points to a 10-point favorite over Duquesne and Tennessee has gone from 17 1/2 to 21 points over Saint Peter’s.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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