The untapped potential of the sports betting market
Professional sports are big business in America – estimated to top $70 billion in revenue in 2018 and 2019. Though the COVID-19 pandemic kept most fans at home during 2020, those revenue numbers resumed their growth as full seasons (and stadiums) returned in the U.S. Alongside the diehard fans who are always fired up to cheer for their favorite teams, the sports-watching audience includes sizeable interest from another demographic – those adding their own stakes to the games.
Sports betting has long been intertwined with sports viewership. While each league takes any potential influence on the sanctity of their outcomes very seriously (see: lifetime MLB bans for the 1919 Black Sox or hits king Pete Rose), there’s no denying the influence betting has on the viewership and presentation of live sports. Wagering on professional football is so ever-present that networks have begun discussing the Vegas odds on-air. The NBA currently is experimenting with a sports betting TV show, and many leagues and teams have reached partnerships with betting sites and platforms such as DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and more. Recently, Capital One Arena, home of Washington D.C.’s Wizards, Mystics and Capitals, opened the first in-arena sportsbook in the U.S. Even staged “sports entertainment” events like professional wrestling occasionally offer betting odds.
The recent emergence of all this synergy is no surprise. Sports betting was federally illegal in the U.S. prior to a May 2018 Supreme Court ruling (for the curious, Las Vegas’s sports betting exemption was grandfathered in at the time of 1992’s Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act). Since that 2018 ruling, individual state legislation has trickled in. As of January 2022, 30 states – plus Washington, D.C. – had passed some form of legislation allowing sports betting, while only ten states lack active legislation supporting legalization.(1) While opposition exists and some states are leaning towards more restrictive implementation, state governments also see the support for such measures – and the potential revenue.
Just how big is this betting market? Here are a few examples from some of the major sporting events that have become cultural (and sports betting) touchstones:
- About 47 million Americans wager on March Madness annually.(2)
- Super Bowl wagers – from all sources – are estimated to total over $4 billion each year.(3)
- The Kentucky Derby generated $233 million in legal wagers in 2021.
And those are just single events. All told, legal sports betting generated $1 billion in revenue in the U.S. in 2020(4) – this despite the enormous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sports industry. When a ten-digit revenue number comes with significant room for growth, its industry tends to start garnering attention. When that growth potential could be described as “staggering” – well, those are the odds stakeholders like to see.
For perspective, estimates for the 2025 sports betting market potential range from $5 billion to $8 billion.(5/6) Keep in mind that’s revenue alone, and it’s based on current models that may not fully capture the optimal tax rates and fees that will ultimately generate revenue. In addition, the extent of the illegal sports betting market isn’t fully known.
One in five men has bet on sports, according to Statista, and younger generations – ages 30-44 and 19-29 – are the most likely to participate.
Most long-term analysis at this point is based on the legal wagers placed since the June 2018 Supreme Court decision (approximately $94.9 billion by January 2022(7)). Illegal wagers remain prominent, however; with state-by-state rollouts varying in timing, limitations and logistical requirements (for example, some states require in-person wagers, while others allow online betting), many bettors are sticking to familiar routines. That illegality, of course, obfuscates exact estimates, but no doubt there is a large population of bettors who continue to utilize bookies, group pools and other outlawed options for laying wagers. Some groups have placed estimates at $150 billion bet illegally in the U.S. – and may consider that forecast conservative.
After the pandemic halted or delayed nearly every professional sport season in 2020, the legal figures jumped back on their projected rise. According to the American Gaming Association, legal sports betting in the first three months of 2021 generated $961.1 million in revenue.(8) And that lingering illegal market appears to be more out of necessity than anything else, as a 2020 American Gaming Association survey found that bettors have been leaving bookies for legal options once they become available.
Changing the Game
The act of placing a wager no longer looks like the glitzy books or grimy underground portrayed in Hollywood films like Casino and The Gambler. In some states, the in-person aspect is no longer required at all. Bettors and sportsbooks are adapting to the digital age, joining the rest of the digital revolution in opening up online avenues. However, this transition isn’t always the smoothest. Online accounts require digital fund loading, which impacts not just cash-preferred consumers, but also those whose banks and credit card providers may not allow deposits into sports betting accounts – a big hurdle for prospective bettors. This could lead to bettors struggling to get in the game, searching for options to fund accounts without taking extraneous steps.
Though the steps may be complicated, it goes without say that any legalization strategy will open more windows to potential bettors. In addition, the digitization of sports betting has ushered in new gameplay options. Through websites and apps, bettors can place wagers from their couch, in the arena, or anywhere else they happen to be catching the game. The variety of betting has evolved as well, to include several options for easy, at-your-convenience wagers for bettors looking to get some skin in the game on a whim.
- Traditional wagers, like betting straight winners/losers, points spreads and props. There’s a whole world of lingo, variety and potential combinations involved.
- Futures are another traditional method allowing users to bet on long-term outcomes, such as betting on the MVP or Champion before the season begins.
- Daily fantasy, popularized by DraftKings and FanDuel, takes the classic fantasy league formula of users picking players they think will perform the best, weighted by their projected value, and competing against others and condenses it from a season-long event to a daily competition.
- In-game wagers, or live betting, allows user to continue placing bets as the game progresses, betting on outcomes for a specific quarter/half or even specific player. These can come in the form of individual wagers or leaderboard competitions.
All told, anyone who wants to amplify their game-watching experience can expect plenty of options at with the tap of their finger.
The sports betting market is a long way from its final form. States are continuing to propose individual legislative solutions to offer safe, fair play and capitalize on the market through tax, fee and licensing revenue, while pro teams are looking for their cut and casinos, sportsbooks, and online providers are competing for bettors’ loyalties. But there are still plenty of payouts to go around on the sports betting scene. One under-the-radar method is through account loading. General-purpose reloadable cards, which allow for cash digitization at participating local retailers, allow consumers to transfer their cash to a digital account, from which they can transfer funds as they see fit. Digital barcode cash-in solutions are growing in popularity as an even more straightforward option. Gift cards can also provide a simple solution, as the purchased amount can be directly loaded to the user’s account; these branded cards also spread brand awareness for sportsbooks and give retailers a new in-demand offering.
There’s also the question of cashing out in a digital ecosystem. When a bettor hits it big (or shops around for better odds), they’ll face those same challenges if they don’t have a connected bank – challenges that could be alleviated with in-lane redemption opportunities.
As legalization rolls on, retailers have opportunities to further serve customers with solutions that grant conveniences like account loading – and potentially redemptions – to new and existing sports bettors. Savvy retailers may have the chance to satisfy these consumers and drive revenue with forward-thinking attention to consumers sports betting processes in conjunction with local legislation.
Between state governments, pro teams and stadiums, sportsbooks, leaders in the digital gaming industry and retailers, there will be no shortage of hands in the pot as previously black-market sports betting dollars convert to legal wagers. But given the massive pool in play, there’s plenty of direct and indirect benefits to go around – and the safe bet is it’s all good news for sports bettors looking for secure, convenient access.
1 “Interactive Map: Sports Betting in the U.S..” American Gaming Association, 25 Jan 2022, https://www.americangaming.org/research/state-gaming-map/
2 “47 Million Americans to Wager on March Madness as Legal Sports Betting Booms.” American Gaming Association, 14 Mar 2021, https://www.americangaming.org/new/47-million-americans-to-wager-on-march-madness-as-legal-sports-betting-booms/
3 “Amount of money bet on the Super Bowl in the U.S. 2020-2021.” Statista, 5 Feb 2021, https://www.courier-journal.com/story/sports/2021/05/03/kentucky-derby-2021-betting-up-85-percent-from-2020/4920468001/
4 Drape, Joe. “As Sports Gambling Grows, So Do Appetite-Whetting Sure Bets.” The New York Times, 2 Feb 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/sports/football/sports-betting-super-bowl.html
5 “U.S. Sports Betting Revenue and Handle.” Legal Sports Report, 31 Jan 2022, https://www.legalsportsreport.com/sports-betting/revenue/
6 “Sports betting market expected to reach $8 billion by 2025.” Associated Press, 4 Nov 2019, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/firms-say-sports-betting-market-to-reach-8-billion-by-2025-2019-11-04
7 “Sports betting in the U.S.” Statista, 2020.
8 “Q1 Commerical Gaming Revenue Matches Highest-Ever Qaurterly total, Surpasses $11B.” American Gaming Association, 11 May 2021, https://www.americangaming.org/new/q1-commercial-gaming-revenue-matches-highest-ever-quarterly-total-surpasses-11b/