Bandy? Pesapallo? CO Will Offer Sports Betting On Oddball Sports

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When the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission approved its catalog of sports wagers last week, it did so with a few sports that don’t appear to be available to wager on anywhere else in the U.S.: pesapallo and bandy.

If those words don’t roll off your tongue when you’re thinking of sports, it’s no surprise — they find their roots in Scandinavia. Pesapallo is a Finnish version of baseball while bandy traces its roots to Sweden and resembles what we think of as floor hockey.

Colorado sportsbooks can begin operations as early as May 1, and several are planning to move forward with digital launches. Retail casinos in the state are shuttered until April 30 for the COVID-19 crisis, but a new state law mandates that the LGCC be ready for legal sports betting by May 1.

Scandinavians in Colorado

If it seems curious that Colorado sportsbooks will be able to offer odds on these sports, think again. There are nearly 300,000 people of Scandinavian descent (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden) in Colorado, accounting for nearly 6% of the population.

And according to Finland Abroad, there are 10,000 Colorado residents of Finnish descent, and six Finnish corporations have offices in the state. Pesapallo is Finland’s national sport. The population is clustered mostly in Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver Metro, and Colorado Springs. According to the website, “Four seasons with more [than]300 days of sunshine annually make Colorado’s climate very attractive for Finns!” And don’t forget the mountains and snow, which are reminiscent of home.

It’s not too much of a stretch to assume that operators in Colorado and other mountain states could see more action on Winter Olympic sports than in warmer climes. Scandinavian athletes are always a factor in Olympic Biathlon and Nordic Skiing events. And the Finns were successful in keeping the Russians from breaching their borders in the 1930s, when outnumbered Finnish soldiers on skis routed the interlopers during World War II’s “Winter War.”

But we’ve all heard of the biathlon, and every four years we get a nifty view of what it’s like to schlep and shoot a rifle while negotiating snowy terrain on cross-country skis. Pesapallo and floorball? Not so much. Here’s a look at those sports.

Pesapallo

Pesapallo was created after World War I when Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala came up with the game as a way to create a sense of nationalism in Finland, which won its independence from Russia in 1917. The game is a loose relative to baseball, though far more athletic. It’s a bat-and-ball sport with bases set in a zig-zag pattern. The bases are farther apart than in baseball, and the pitcher doesn’t throw from a mound, but rather throws the ball up in the air next to the batter and then gets out of the way.  

A match is made up of two periods, and each period has four innings. Unlike baseball, each inning is scored in and of itself, like tennis. So if a team wins an inning by scoring more runs, it gets a point. The team with the most points wins, and an extra inning is added if there is a tie after the eighth.

Bettors will be able to wager on match results for both men’s and women’s leagues. The types of games available to wager on are exhibition, friendlies, all-star, international, regular season, and post season.

The Superpesis, Finland’s top league, is set to begin the season in early June. Several European sportsbooks also accept wagering on The Superpesis.

Since niche sports such as pesapallo often fly under the radar, integrity concerns often arise. For instance, Las Vegas-based Circa Sports, a Colorado licensee, passed on offering lines on Russian table tennis last month due to a poor satellite feed.

The Superpesis operated under a dark cloud in the late 1990s after Finnish authorities uncovered a comprehensive match-fixing scheme. The scheme involved players and managers from eight teams, over five matches during the final two rounds of the 1998 regular season. Based on the standings at the time, none of the matches had post-season implications. Of the five matches, four ended in draws — resulting in high payouts for bettors.

During the investigation, Finnish police interrogated nearly 500 individuals. Two prominent players, four-time Finnish baseball champion Markus Meriläinen and Markus Terämaa, received fines for aggravated fraud. In total, 34 people received jail sentences for their role in the scheme.

Bandy

Where exactly bandy — or floorball — got its start is somewhat contested, as early versions of the game were played in Canada, the U.S., and Sweden, but Sweden can claim the first official club, Sala IBK in 1979. Two years later, the first official rulebook was published, and in 1989, there were enough teams in Sweden to have a league.

Bandy or floorball pits teams of five plus a goalkeeper in three 20-minute periods. It is played inside with sticks and a plastic ball with holes. It’s played in an indoor rink (no ice) with walls. In the U.S., we call it floor hockey, and it’s usually a recreational sport. But in Sweden and several other countries, it’s a competitive sport with an international federation.

Players carry what looks like a short hockey stick made of carbon or other lightweight materials. Ice hockey-style checking is not allowed, and bandy rules seem to combine those of soccer and ice hockey.

Bettors will be able to wager on match results and totals for exhibitions, friendlies, all-star games, international games, regular season games and playoffs. There are governing bodies and leagues listed in the catalog. Floorball isn’t popular only in Sweden — the list of offerings includes leagues in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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Jill Dorson

Jill has covered everything from steeplechase to the NFL and then some during a more than 30-year career in sports journalism. The highlight of her career was covering Oakland Raiders during the Charles Woodson/Jon Gruden era, including the infamous “Snow Bowl” and the Raiders’ 2003 trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. Her specialty these days is covering sports betting legislation across the country.

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