One wager changed the Super Bowl 54 betting line this week. According to MGM Resorts, someone put $550,000 on the Kansas City Chiefs to win by one point, causing the casino to move the line. While that made the Chiefs 1.5-point favorites, the bigger story was how the wager came in. Instead of happening in person, the bid, like millions of others, took place online.
Online Offers a Growing Market
Online betting is a growing market in the United States, one that highlights a shifting mindset. The American Gaming Association says nearly 5 million people will bet on the Super Bowl through an online or mobile device this year, up 19 percent from 2019. By comparison, the AGA says “close to 4 million will place a bet in person at a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.” This marks one of the first times online wagers have been projected higher than in-person bets for the game. Don’t count the brick-and-mortar spots out just yet, however. That 4 million number is up 25 percent from last year. It’s not a case of people giving up on in-person wagers. Instead, as the nature of sports betting changes, we’re seeing new people gain interest.
If you want to draw new online gamers, one of the easiest ways involves prop bets. For the Super Bowl, people wager on everything from the coin flip result to the halftime entertainment. You just pick up your phone, sign in and put down a guess. In some ways, it’s an extension of the app culture created by smartphone technology. Younger gamers already visit the iPhone store and buy video games. The same applies here, although they have a chance to get some money back.
“Americans have never before had so many opportunities to wager on the Super Bowl in a safe and legal manner, and clearly, they are getting in on the action,” AGA president Bill Miller said in a press release.
Adding Up the Numbers
There’s plenty of interest and cash generated by the game. The AGA estimates $6.8 billion will be wagered on this year’s Super Bowl in a variety of ways. Roughly 9 million people will wager in officially licensed venues, online and in person. Another 17 million will put cash down in less official ways. According to a study done for the AGA by the group Morning Consult, more than 1 in 10 Americans plan to wager on the game in some way.
Those are some fairly large numbers, but they could be even bigger. Out of an estimated 26 million potential Super Bowl bets, less than one sixth will be placed online this year. That’s not due to lack of interest. A previous study by the AGA found 24 percent of Americans would gamble on sports if it was legal in their state, with a majority showing interest in online gaming. Twenty-four percent of the 269.3 million currently living Americans over 17 comes out to just over 64 million. Even if casinos and other gaming companies only got one fourth of those people to play online, it adds up to significant revenue.
It’s not just casino owners or others in the gaming industry who benefit from expanded sports betting. The NFL also has a reason to encourage the idea in all states. A 2019 AGA study found 75 percent of NFL gamblers say they’re more likely to watch a game they’ve bet on, even if they don’t like sports. That’s beneficial at a time when Super Bowl ratings keep declining. The NFL’s championship game has seen a drop each of the last four years and as ratings drop, so does revenue.
States Find Their Own Way
Currently 14 states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow legalized sports betting, including online options. Six more will make a decision on the idea before next year’s Super Bowl arrives. Earlier this year, we took a look at some of the ideas being proposed and how they might change the gaming landscape. But any change is up to individual states to decide and as a result, it’s not clear what the industry will look like by February 2021.
“It’s a little bit of a wild west right now,” said Marcus DiNitto, managing editor for USA Sports Gaming. “In states that allow mobile wagering, being able to pick up your phone and place a wager is having a major impact.”
That includes operations beyond the Super Bowl. In New Jersey, online and mobile gaming pulled in $244.4 million in 2019, according to Play NJ’s database. It also didn’t drive people away from casinos as some feared. In December 2019 alone, New Jersey casinos brought in $54.9 million, up from $40.3 million in December 2018. Looking at the 2019 Super Bowl, online and mobile brought in $12.8 million in what was considered a down year. Multiple gaming operations lost money on last year’s blowout win by the New England Patriots.
“The industry is so young in the United States, it’s hard to predict (how it grows),” DiNitto said. “A lot of that falls on how laws are shaped, state by state.”
The Law of the Land
In D.C., DiNitto pointed out, online sports betting is fully supported. The same goes for Indiana and Oregon, among others. Groups in Washington state want to see online gaming approved, but officials there argue it would increase gambling addiction, even if limited to major events like the Super Bowl. Michigan’s Gaming Control Board approved the concept, but plans to take a year to finalize the rules involved. It’s possible they’ll go live for the 2021 Super Bowl, but that’s still in question. Other states like North Carolina signed off on sports betting last year, but only as a limited concept. In NC, that means being restricted to physical gaming at the Cherokee casinos.
Then there’s places like New York, where an ongoing fight over fantasy sports keeps mobile gaming banned. It’s also unlikely we’ll see any mobile gaming in Utah for the 2021 Super Bowl or any game after, as a ban on gambling is written into the state’s constitution.
“It really all depends on the state,” DiNitto said. “States are going their own way on this.”
For a breakdown of all 50 states and where they stand, here’s a breakdown from ESPN.
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