The recent return of the biggest sports leagues is satisfying bettor demand that built up during the pandemic.
In a COVID-19-crippled economy, with social distancing rules in effect, casinos aren’t packing ’em in like they used to. But with the return of professional sports, particularly the NFL, there’s one big trend rising above the doom and gloom.
Sports betting revenue is surging, and not just in relative terms.
The rise was dramatic even from the August numbers, which of course wouldn’t include football.
Take the state of Mississippi, for example. A Gambling.com report says sports betting in the state rose 411% in August compared to July. That’s a big jump, but still small potatoes because of the pandemic… right? Wrong.
- Mississippi’s August 2020 sports betting handle, over $40 million, is twice what it was in August 2019.
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Americans love betting on sports, and the pandemic didn’t take away that love, it just took away the sports. With few options to choose from, many American wagerers were left putting their money on table tennis matches. In Colorado, which just began legal online sports betting in May, the handle from table tennis was more than double that of the next most wagered-upon sport in June.
Then, Major League Baseball came back on July 23, to immediate success. “Baseball this year is orders of magnitude more popular than it was previous seasons,” Adam Greenblatt, CEO of Roar Digital, the joint venture that operates BetMGM, told Sports Business Daily.
The NBA resumed play on July 30, and the NHL came back on August 1. The triple rush of baseball-basketball-hockey explains the gaudy numbers in August, which weren’t just a Mississippi thing.
- Indiana’s sports handle increased from $29 million in June to $70 million in July to nearly $170 million in August. (The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians owns and operates Four Winds Casino South Bend in Indiana. The Tribe is renegotiating its compact with the state to enter the sports betting market.)
- Pennsylvania’s June-July-August trajectory goes $89 million, $165 million, $365 million. (In December, Mohegan Sun Pocono launched online sports betting across Pennsylvania, accessible on mobile apps found at pa.unibet.com and on its website.)
All This Without Football
And baseball, basketball and hockey aren’t even the big dogs of sports betting. Historically, Americans bet on football more than any other sport — a lot more. While the growth from month to month shows legal sports betting is roaring back out of the pandemic, another stat suggests that the industry may have undergone a fundamental change:
The biggest sports betting handle recorded by any state, pre-COVID-19, was the $614.1 million reaped by Nevada in November 2019 — the thick of football season. New Jersey blew past that record in August, taking in $668 million from betting on sports that are not football.
With the return of the NFL (as of September 10), it wouldn’t be surprising to see New Jersey break its own record. And that can be used to gauge the potential for Tribal casinos to rake in other markets.
Sports Betting In 2020 Is Different
Sports betting is being propelled to new heights by sportsbook apps — which accounted for 90% of the money wagered in New Jersey. Retail or in-person sports betting was effectively shut down in April and May as casinos closed their doors. While casinos are now re-opening, many are doing so at reduced capacity. When casinos are fully open, will we see sports betting dollars return to their previous online-to-retail ratio… or has COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way consumers prefer to do their sports betting? That remains to be seen.
In a time when everyone, including state governments, is wondering where that next dollar will come from, the spiking numbers around sports betting won’t go unnoticed.
Matias Dorta, an associate at Roundhill Investments, tells Benzinga that August’s jackpot will serve as a catalyst. “One, it will speed up the legislation of sports betting in other states. Two, 90% of the handle in New Jersey’s record setting month was online. … I believe the combination of both of these factors will speed up the time to market maturity and strengthen the overall addressable market.”
In other words, any state that doesn’t allow sports betting has got to be considering changing course. And those that have sports betting will be looking to regulate online sportsbooks with a light touch.
It’s a window of opportunity for Tribes whose retail gaming operations are still recovering.