Grey Cup Wagering Hits New Highs for Books as CFL Leans Harder into Sports Betting

The downside for books — and the upside for bettors — was that the bulk of Sunday’s handle appears to have been on the victorious Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The CFL, meanwhile, is trying to step up its sports-betting efforts altogether.

Last Updated: Dec 13, 2021 8:38 PM ET Read Time: 7 min
Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

First things first: yes, the Grey Cup’s national anthem prop bet did go Over.

Although the ending might have been muffled somewhat by a fighter-jet flyover, Savannah Ré’s rendition of O Canada before the Canadian Football League’s championship game on Sunday took longer than the 69.5-second total that Sports Interaction offered bettors. 

“About 30 seconds in I knew it was going to go way Over because she was going a little bit slower and letting some notes hang,” said Phill Gray, the head of trading operations at Sports Interaction, in an interview with Covers.

The anthem bet was a popular one with punters. However, it was not the only thing that was wagered on. And, after adding it all up, some online sportsbooks are saying more action was taken at their shop on the Grey Cup this year than ever before, which may be music to the ears of the CFL as it aims to cash in on the sports-betting boom.

At Sports Interaction, the amount wagered on Sunday’s game was about double what it had been in the past. That increase was due to a combination of things, including plenty of prop-betting options, rising awareness of sports wagering in general, and a highly anticipated rematch of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the CFL’s heavyweight title.

“It all kind of snowballed into the perfect storm as far as handle,” Gray said. 

Government-owned British Columbia Lottery Corp. (BCLC) said its PlayNow sportsbook saw a 260% increase in the number of bets and a 480% surge in handle for this year's Grey Cup compared to the 2019 game. The CFL’s 2020 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“This was the most popular Grey Cup for betting ever on,” BCLC spokesperson Matt Lee said in an email. 

Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) likewise said the amount of wagering it saw on Sunday’s Grey Cup topped previous highs. 

The action was driven in part by the passage of legislation earlier in the year that allows provinces to offer single-game wagering to bettors, which government-owned OLG is now doing with its online sportsbook, PROLINE+. BCLC is doing the same with PlayNow.

“It’s not surprising but this year’s Grey Cup saw the most betting action in the history of OLG’s PROLINE brand (retail and PROLINE+ digital),” OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said in an email. 

Singing the blues

The downside for books — and the upside for bettors — was the bulk of Sunday’s handle appears to have been on Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers dramatically delivered for the betting public by winning by a score of 33-25 in overtime, which left plenty of room to cover the point spread. 

In the run-up to Sunday’s game, the line moved from Winnipeg as favourites of around four-and-a-half points to the Bombers falling as low as -1 at some books by kickoff. 

Gray said the week started with bettors hammering Winnipeg, which was followed by buyback on Hamilton. But as the game neared, it was all Winnipeg from punters, leaving Sports Interaction with a “hefty" Bombers liability. Approximately 70% of pregame money was on Winnipeg, Gray said. 

“From noon on Sunday it was nothing but Winnipeg on the spread and Winnipeg on the moneyline,” he added. 

BCLC’s Lee said the majority of handle for PlayNow was on the moneyline and that most bettors backed the winning Blue Bombers. Moreover, the most popular prop at PlayNow was on the outcome of the pregame coin toss, with two-thirds of wagers on “heads,” a winner for bettors.

OLG bettors were leaning Blue Bombers as well. Winnipeg drew around 68% of tickets and 72% of the money for Grey Cup point-spread bets, which ranged from -1.5 to -3.5, Bitonti said. 

One Winnipeg bettor also paired the Blue Bombers with 11 other picks — most of which were big moneyline favourites in NFL games —  to turn $800 into more than $10,000 in winnings from OLG. 

Kris Abbott, head of North America for Coolbet, said the sportsbook’s ticket count for point-spread and moneyline bets was pretty much even but that 70 to 75% of the money was on Winnipeg. Not only that, but the Grey Cup went over its point total and a bunch of props hit, including the anthem over. 

“It was an overall losing game for the book as we paid back 138.1% of the money bet,” Abbott said in an email. 

While the Grey Cup might have been a loser for the books, the uptick in gambling on the game was probably a win for the CFL, which has made sports betting a pillar of its strategy. After having its 2020 season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, the league has embraced betting as a way to deliver fan interest and revenue.

The CFL’s approach was underscored on the Friday before the Grey Cup. That morning it was announced the league had formed a partnership with Genius Sports Ltd., a data-and-tech company that has similar partnerships with more than 400 sports organizations, including the National Football League. 

The deal will grant Genius the exclusive rights to try to make money by selling the CFL’s official data around the world. The same goes for selling the league’s video content to sportsbooks in international markets, “replicating the global distribution and success of [Genius’s] official betting products for the EPL and NFL, among others,” a press release said.

“Genius Sports will help the CFL to capitalize on the growth of the North American sports betting market, maximizing revenue and engagement opportunities,” the release added.

A welcome one-off

The CFL’s betting ambitions also received a shot in the arm earlier this year.

In the past, there had been opposition to legalizing single-game sports betting in Canada from professional sports leagues. But CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie in June 2020 joined the leaders of the NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS in publicly backing an amendment to Canadian law that would permit provinces to offer singles.

The CFL was then one of the more prominent supporters of Bill C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, which was passed by Parliament earlier this year. The act took effect at the end of August and allows provinces and territories to conduct and manage single-game sports betting.

Ambrosie even appeared before a Senate committee in June to highlight the CFL’s enthusiasm for the bill. The commissioner gave two main reasons for allowing single-game sports betting, one of which was dragging what was estimated to be billions of dollars of wagering with offshore and illegal sportsbooks into Canadian-regulated channels.

The other reason Ambrosie gave was in connection with the league itself and the financial hit it had taken.

“The ability to grow our fan base has never been more important or crucial to our future,” Ambrosie told the committee, according to a transcript. “We know this bill can have a hugely positive impact on all of us in the sports and entertainment industries as we work to build our businesses back.” 

Ambrosie said they weren’t sure exactly how good financially the legalization of single-game betting would be for the CFL. 

He did say, however, that they did think it would help them with attracting new fans and keeping existing ones interested — the “fan engagement” that other professional sports organizations have hoped sports betting would bring them.

“We know in conversations with our broadcast partner, for example, that improvements in ratings are not just how many people watch a game but how long they watch it for,” Ambrosie said. “If somebody stays for that last three minutes of the game because they have a $5 bet, it’s actually going to help us improve our ratings.” 

Since then, the CFL named BetRegal as its "Official Sport Gaming Partner,” and its member clubs have continued or formed partnerships with other sportsbook operators, such as Sports Interaction. 

There’s not been much else, though, which is due in part to regulations around gambling. So far, the only sportsbooks authorized by the provinces to take bets are those of government-owned lottery and gaming corporations.  

But provinces are gradually beginning to broaden their wagering options. 

Ontario is currently preparing to launch a competitive market for internet-based gambling that could allow private-sector sportsbook operators to do business. An agency of the Alberta government also recently began a process that could see brick-and-mortar sportsbooks open at the home fields of the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Elks in time for next season. 

A Genius move?

Some of the CFL’s efforts might be paying off. BCLC’s Lee said the boom in Grey Cup betting was not surprising, as had seen a “record-breaking number of bets” on the CFL this past season. 

“The number of CFL bets on in 2021 increased by approximately 35% compared to the 2019 season, and the amount of money wagered increased by approximately 149%,” Lee added.

The ongoing expansion of legal sports betting and the opportunities that could be unlocked come next year’s Grey Cup could drive the handle for the game even higher. 

Ambrosie said recently that the CFL would work with its new partner, Genius, to identify further opportunities at the provincial level.

The CFL’s agreement with Genius also involves the company taking a minority ownership stake in a new commercial arm of the league, which is called CFL Ventures. The transaction is expected to take effect in January 2022, according to a press release. 

“We're going to effectively move our commercial assets into a standalone business,” Ambrosie said in his recent state of the league remarks to the media. “Genius is going to become a minority equity investor in our commercial business. And Genius is going to apply their technology, their fan-engagement strategies. They're going to bring basically the entire world of all of their capabilities to the CFL and we're going to do it as partners.”

Pages related to this topic

Popular Content

Legal Canadian sports betting

Best Canadian betting sites Ontario sports betting
Covers 25 Years Logo Established in 1995,
Covers is the world
leader in sports
betting information.
Covers is verified safe by: Evalon Logo GPWA Logo GDPR Logo GeoTrust Logo Evalon Logo