$66,500 on Texas Southern vs. Southern: Should sportsbooks accept bets on lower-profile events?

What do sportsbooks do when a bet appears suspicious? Ethan Miller/Getty Images

An online sportsbook on Monday reported taking a $66,500 bet on a small-conference women's college basketball game from a customer in New Jersey who had been on a hot streak.

Tipico sportsbook told ESPN that the customer started with $15,000 and won multiple bets, increasing their balance to $66,500. The customer then bet it all on under 128.5 points in the Southern-Texas Southern women's game Monday. Southern won 70-60, and the bet lost.

A bet of that size on a small-conference women's basketball game is unheard of, and it may have been one of the only wagers on that contest in the world. It raised red flags, prompted integrity concerns and begs the question: Should sportsbooks take big bets on lower-profile events?

After accepting the wager, Tipico alerted U.S. Integrity, a Las Vegas-based firm that monitors the betting market for unusual activity. U.S. Integrity notified regulators in New Jersey, reviewed the details surrounding the wager and tracked the basketball game, but didn't identify anything unusual.

"The game itself at the end of the day wasn't fishy at all," Matthew Holt, president of U.S Integrity, told ESPN on Tuesday.

Holt was surprised, however, that the sportsbook accepted a bet that size on a small-conference women's game and fears that taking large wagers on similar markets could incentivize nefarious actors in the future.

"The lower the level of the event, there's always the opportunity for nefarious activity," Holt said. "Let's face it, these young women in this event probably aren't being drafted into the WNBA, and they're probably not getting big NIL deals; thus, they're naturally more vulnerable to potential bribes."

Some states require licensed sportsbook operators to share bets with integrity providers, like U.S. Integrity. Holt says visibility of the data is key, and his company often looks to see if multiple big bets are being placed simultaneously on an event that doesn't normally attract significant betting interest.

"In general, I don't ever believe that big bets are a threat on their own," Holt said. "If we see a game that typically would attract zero bets has five bets at four different properties totaling 150 grand, that is really strange and we'll start having some analysts running it down."

Most sportsbooks don't regularly offer betting on women's college basketball. The customer demand just isn't there. The largest operators like DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars did not have a line on Southern-Texas Southern or any other women's college basketball game Monday. Tipico and Bet365 were among the only sportsbooks in the U.S. that had odds on the game.

Tipico vice president of sportsbook Andre Zammit said deciding whether to accept a wager is determined by two primary factors: the oddsmakers' confidence in the numbers and the betting habits of the customer. In the case of the New Jersey bettor, Zammit said the $66,500 bet was not out of the ordinary.

"It wasn't out of the blue," Zammit told ESPN. "It wasn't a case of a $200, $300 [bettor] all of a sudden going ridiculously high money on something like this. This was a pattern for that particular customer."

Jay Croucher, head of trading for sportsbook PointsBet, agreed with Zammit that customer betting habits can be a key indicator of something potentially untoward.

"If a customer has just signed up at PointsBet and wants to have as their first bet $100,000 on Bolivian third-division soccer, then that's suspicious," Croucher said. "But if they're a client whose average bet size is $20,000 or $30,000 and they're betting $25,000 on Rams minus five or Lakers minus six and then they have a $20,000 bet on some table tennis game, that's not suspicious."

Croucher said PointsBet maintains an open dialogue with integrity bodies in the U.S. and participates in communication channels with other sportsbook operators discussing what they're seeing.

"For the most part, we're pretty good identifying any issues," Croucher said.

Still, U.S. bookmakers have often insisted that one of the protections against point shaving or match fixing is betting limits. But now, with sportsbooks engaged in a fierce customer-acquisition battle in the fledgling U.S. betting market, bookmakers seem more willing to take big bets on small events.

"The more of these big bets that are accepted on obscure markets, the motivation for people to try to manipulate these markets obviously grows," Holt said.