Miniature golf was a childhood staple for Gen-Xers and older Millennials, but the game has grown up with them and is increasingly being marketed to adults rather than kids. London-based, “crazy golf” outfit Swingers recently announced it will bring minigolf to Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in 2024 after closing a $52 million funding round to expand its adults-only model with a flagship location on the Vegas Strip. Meanwhile, betting on professional minigolf is growing in popularity.
Pro League Network (PLN) announced last week that it had secured new funding “in the low seven figures” to expand its portfolio of bettable sports leagues. The World Putting League (WPL)—a competitive minigolf tour—will be among the leagues that benefit.
Sanctioned by the US Pro Minigolf Association (USPMA), the WPL recently added New Jersey and Pennsylvania to make eight states where betting on the league is allowed through partners like Bet365, DraftKings, and BetFred.
Looking around, minigolf seems to be having a moment—a renaissance, perhaps.
And it makes sense, customers are hungry for entertainment, and businesses are grabbing the opportunity and running with it—albeit in very different directions.
Swingers Will Bring Boozy Minigolf to the Strip
Take Swingers. The growing adult-only minigolf empire started as a five-week pop-up in London almost a decade ago. After initial success, the company seized the apparent opportunity and stuck around.
In operation since 2014, the innovative minigolf brand expanded, adding two permanent locations in London and three in the US.
In addition to the 40,000-square-foot Vegas flagship coming sometime next year, a Dubai Swingers will open in the spring. And they plan to have 15 locations by 2026, thanks to the funding received.
In a report in Propel Info News, Swingers co-founder and CEO Matt Grech-Smith reflected on the trajectory:
Our journey to becoming a global brand in some ways feels meteoric until you consider the ten years that it has taken to get here! We never anticipated, as we opened our pop-up in a London warehouse in 2014, that ten years later, we would be opening in Las Vegas – it has been an incredible journey.
Plans for Swingers’ location at Mandalay Bay feature five minigolf courses, live DJs, street food, cocktails, and a hole-in-one party vibe. All in a space designed as a Vegas take on an English country estate.
Casinos always want to attract a younger audience, so the iconic strip resort-casino surely anticipates the new venue’s arrival. Possibly more so as Mandalay Bay continues to reset after 2017’s tragic mass shooting.
But, other than the focus on minigolf, Swingers doesn’t share much in common with the WPL—except the eye for an opportunity.
PLN Provides Live, Bettable Sports Entertainment
PLN’s co-founders, Bill Yucatonis and Mike Salvaris, spoke to Bonus about WPL and the business as a whole. We also touched on Swingers and similar companies.
There is a trend called competitive socializing, which Swingers fits into, said Yucatonis.
He said that nearly every major city has some semblance of a reimagined minigolf experience. He also noted how venues that combine activities like basketball or axe throwing with food and drink and socializing keep popping up.
(Notably, Swingers’ parent company is called Competitive Socialising.)
According to industry watchers, Millenials and Gen-Z’s thirst for experiences over things is fuelling the busy trend.
But there’s a big difference between friends gathered at Swingers for minigolf and cocktails and what PLN does, said Yucatonis.
Having a real professional sport in whatever the context, and making it bettable, there has to be boundaries and rules and structure around that.
So that, he said, is what they do: Identify bettable sports, build a brand, and create the boundaries, rules, and structure to make betting possible.
When it comes to the WPL, the result, while shorter, looks more like a traditional PGA broadcast than a hole-in-one party. For now, betting on the WPL is a no-go in Nevada, even though other states have embraced it.
New PLN Sports Fill Holes in Sports Betting Calendar
The pair, who have decades of sports and gaming experience between them, founded PLN because they recognized a hole in the sports betting market they thought they could fill.
Long story short, we continue to see gaps and opportunities in the sports wagering calendar. Sportsbooks need to make sure people are coming back to the platform, that it’s not just about the NFL season… We looked at a few different niche sports that, quite frankly, felt like they were exciting. Approachable to a casual sports fan. And they had the DNA that, if done with the right integrity and programming. If broadcasts were the right time of day, it’d be great for sports wagering.
In any case, in December 2022, the pair launched PLN and began producing “niche, fun, bettable” sports content” for those casual sports and wagering fans and the operators that want them.
In addition to WPL, PLN owns 16 brands in various stages of development. One proving popular online is CarJitsu, in which fighters grapple according to the rules of jiujitsu but within the confines of a parked car rather than a ring.
PLN expects to launch two new titles soon, one a competitive version of Carrom. Popular in India, it’s a tabletop game combining elements of billiards and shuffleboard. PLN’s other new initiative, BeastBall, offers a gladiator-esque one-on-one take on rugby.
Casino games currently account for the lion’s share of operator revenue for the online gambling industry. Adding novelty to the sports calendar could help reduce the revenue gap while boosting overall earnings and tax dollars.
Adult-Only X Pro Minigolf Crossover Likely
Despite their differences, these new spins on minigolf could end up crossing paths. Yucatonis said there’s been talk about hosting events at locations like Swingers. It’s something that he expects to happen eventually.
In the meantime, PLN will keep doing what it’s doing.
There are a lot of casual, fun, real professional sports that deserve the time of day, the experience, and the revenue from things like sports wagering.
For us, we’re reinventing and reimagining some of that experience. And we don’t care about tickets. We don’t care about filling big venues. We care about studio style. About well-produced, well-timed, entertaining sports everyone can relate to, have fun watching, and, hopefully, bet a few bucks.