Remarkably virtual sports betting has been around for almost 20 years and yet it has enjoyed its biggest ever surge in popularity during the start of 2020. Of course when the first virtual horse races were beamed in the countries betting shops in 2001 punters were sceptical.

The graphics were unquestionably very basic, some would say ‘corny’, in these early days and betting shop customers, who were without live horse racing to bet on due to the ongoing Foot & Mouth crisis, switched their interest to betting shops other ‘old faithful’ gambling sport, greyhound racing.

But the planets started to line-up for virtual sports which you can gamble on when online bookmaking began to truly gather pace. Like virtual sports themselves, 2001 was a key year for online bookmaking with most major firms entering cyberspace. And given live horse racing and greyhound racing only had limited windows of opportunity, this new animated game-type of betting found its niche.  


The Shift Away From Real Sports in Virtual Sports

Online sportsbooks and punters alike soon realised virtual sports betting is available any time day or night. And for those that liked a bet, and found online casino games such as roulette to be too automated, virtual races offered great entertainment 24/7. 

Some other gamblers were amazed that the betting odds on offer, particularly on virtual greyhound races at virtual tracks such as Brushwood, Millersfield, Trapton Park and Mutleigh Cross, were greater than their real-life counterparts with the betting percentages (a theoretical profit margin) much more favourable on the virtual races.

And while this has been a factor in people slowly turning to virtual sports betting, the biggest catalysts have been dramatically improved graphics and a new younger audience who have probably never visited a greyhound stadium or horse track but have spent thousands of hours watching and playing virtual betting sports close cousin, Esports ranging from League of Legends to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.


National Approval

Virtual sports have become big business and a business which continues to grow. To demonstrate its popularity take a look at the 2020 Grand National which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The cancellation marked the first time since World War II that the famous steeplechase was not run. However all was not lost as ITV, who were due to broadcast the race, still made a spectacle of the famous contest by devising a virtual edition of marathon steeplechase. The bookmakers were unanimous in their support for a ‘virtual Grand National’ and they banded together to lay a book on the race and agreed to donate any profits to NHS hospital charities.

The results were remarkable. ITV reported a live audience of 4.8 million people who watched 18/1 shot Potters Corner win a full-length virtual ‘live’ Grand National. And while punters had to limit their bets to just a £10 maximum, bookmakers generated profits of £2.6 million which is now being used for good causes.