Record numbers of gamblers are placing wagers this NFL season as more states ease into legal sports betting.
The sports betting boom, which proponents tout as a major positive for the sports industry and critics deride as having the potential to undermine the ethos of sporting contests, is intensifying at a breakneck pace and is no more evident than this year’s football season.
The transition toward legal sports betting began in 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled that a 1992 law prohibiting sports betting was unconstitutional. That landmark decision paved the way for states to legalize sports betting and, in turn, opened the wallets of new gamblers across the country.
At the start of this year’s NFL season, the first one that has featured full stadiums since the pandemic began, more than two dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, allowed fans to place bets. That number is up from 18 jurisdictions that allowed legal wagers at the start of last year’s season.
Additionally, the American Gaming Association anticipates that people in as many as five more states will be able to gamble before the NFL season is up.
The explosion in legal wagering is already being felt just two weeks into the NFL’s regular season.
Casey Clark, the senior vice president with the AGA, told the Washington Examiner his group is seeing a “significant uptick in excitement” with betting. He said that the AGA estimates that 45.2 million people plan to wager on the NFL this year — a 32% increase from last year.
GeoComply Solutions is a Canada-based company that provides geolocation, fraud, and cybersecurity services for the U.S. gaming industry. Because different states have different laws relating to sports betting, the company’s technology is used by sportsbooks’ mobile apps and websites to verify the user is who they say they are and where they say they are.
The company said the first week NFL games tallied record numbers. GeoComply said it counted 58.2 million geolocation transactions from the first games that Thursday to Sunday evening, a 126% increase from the same time last season.
“The data tells a remarkable story about the growth of the industry in a short period of time,” said Lindsay Slader, GeoComply’s managing director of gaming. “This success is a credit to all our clients and state regulators, who have worked tirelessly to prepare for the start of the new NFL season.”
Slader told the Washington Examiner that her company is seeing year-on-year growth in the states that had sports betting prior to the start of this year’s season, but she also noted the new additions and those expected in the coming season.
“There is growth happening in a number of different ways, existing markets are growing, new markets are being introduced, and there are some places that are experiencing NFL for the very first time,” she said during a phone call.
Not only is the growth of legal wagering being felt by the industry, but it is also being seen.
Declan Hill, an associate professor in the University of New Haven's investigations program, said that proof of the growth of legal sports betting could be observed in the media, which is also profiting from the boom.
“I dare any of your readers to switch on a television, be it ESPN or any of the other sports networks, and have to wait for more than 30 seconds before they’ll see gambling odds being floated across the screen,” he said.
The NFL now permits seven sports betting companies to advertise their books during games despite once fighting against legal gambling. ESPN is also reportedly in talks with major sportsbooks about licensing its brand for at least a $3 billion deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Furthermore, prior to the 2021 NFL season, the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens both entered partnerships with Sportradar, a provider of sports betting and sports entertainment products.
Clark thinks all the growth in the sports betting industry is a good thing because he said wagering on games yields greater fan engagement. He said having skin in the game gets people watching more sports and for longer.
Some aren’t quite as enthusiastic about the seeming deluge of gambling in the sports arena.
Hill, who is an expert in sports integrity and betting, knocked the current state of sports media during an interview with the Washington Examiner.
He called many pundits “basically gambling industry shills” and asserted that those who appear on TV often don’t talk about the game as much anymore but rather put emphasis on the odds and the spread — a sign of how big the legal gambling market has become in the United States.
The professor worries about what he called the “gamblization” of sports, a gradual shift in sports fans from watching a sporting event such as an NFL game into seeing sporting as a vehicle to meet their gambling desires.
“Very few people go to a horse race because they love horses. They’re there because those horses are vehicles for their gambling,” Hill remarked.
Comparing it to the cigarette industry of decades past, Hill said that there are concerns that younger people will become more exposed to gambling through exposure to attractive ads about sports wagering from a young age.
Clark pointed out that even before sports betting was legal in a majority of states, people used offshore books and corner bookies to wager on NFL games. He said that the growth of the industry is “exciting” because there is now a form of regulatory environment with protections in place.
There is some historical reticence with sports betting in the U.S. as well. The "Black Sox" scandal rocked the American sporting world when some of the biggest names in baseball, including "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. Former Cincinnati Reds player Pete Rose also bet on his team while playing.
Hall predicts a “massive” series of match-fixing scandals coming in the next few years. Hill doesn’t think the challenges to integrity will come from leagues such as the NFL, but rather from more minor leagues that betting companies allow people to wager money on.
It is unclear what the exact impact that increased sports betting is having on NFL viewership this season, although it was up 7% during the opening week compared to last year and averaged 17.4 million viewers per game, according to the NFL.
CBS’s two Sunday games that week jumped 21% from 2020, and NBC saw an 11% rise in viewership.
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Original Author: Zachary Halaschak
Original Location: NFL and gambling companies cash in on football season betting boom