A year ago, Americans wagered roughly $280 million on Super Bowl LIV through legal sportsbooks. Nearly $154.7 million of those bets took place in Nevada.
It’s safe to assume that with seven more legal sports betting jurisdictions in place than there were in 2020, the handle on Sunday’s Super Bowl LV in Tampa between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will blow past last year’s figure.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, could soften some of that total.
How much is up for debate.
Most casino jurisdictions are still operating under COVID-19 health, safety, and cleaning protocols, which include social distancing guidelines and capacity limitations. That leads to Americans relying more on online sports betting opportunities and mobile devices for this weekend’s game.
Nevada sportsbook operators and experts said the market – particularly due to reduced capacity on the Las Vegas Strip – won’t reach its 2020 wagering total, which was its second-highest all-time handle behind the $158.6 million wagered in 2018.
William Hill US CEO Joe Asher said Northern Nevada sportsbooks a year ago saw a heavy business from San Francisco 49ers fans driving over from the Bay Area to place wagers on the team, which lost to Kansas City, 31-20. This year, with COVID restrictions in place, Las Vegas visitation will be reduced.
“The retail handle will definitely be down because of COVID, but still, it’s a terrific matchup and it will still be a heavily bet Super Bowl,” Asher said.
Dave Forman, senior research director for the American Gaming Association, said market growth – there are now 20 states and Washington D.C. with legal sports betting – assures the $280 million figure from a year ago will be topped. But it’s also expected the number of people making wagers inside sportsbooks at casinos and racetracks will be down.
“It’s not a challenge to predict the legal handle will go up,” Forman said. “It’s safe to say it will be significant.”
Record online wagers expected
The AGA issued a report Tuesday that predicted 23.2 million Americans plan to bet on the game, a decline of 12% from last year’s levels. The report predicted $4.3 billion would be wagered on the contest, down 38% from last year’s Super Bowl.
One of the biggest declines will be in the non-traditional wagers, such as bets with friends, betting pools, and betting squares. Those activities will be down because of pandemic-related social gathering limitations.
But the AGA survey also forecasted a record 7.6 million Americans betting with online sportsbooks, up 63% from last year. It’s unclear, however, how many will bet with legally regulated sportsbooks or illegal offshore sites that the AGA and the gaming industry have been trying to eliminate through legal sports betting expansion.
“With a robust legal market, Americans are abandoning illegal bookies and taking their action into the regulated marketplace in record numbers,” said AGA CEO Bill Miller.
Forman said the AGA’s research has shown there is consumer confusion over the legal status of many online sportsbooks. However, he said the overwhelming number of sports betting consumers that were polled believe it’s important to bet legally.
Sports betting consultant Sara Slane said exactly half of the NFL’s 32 teams are located in states where legal sports betting is either taking place or has been legalized and is expected to launch in 2021.
“For years, fans have bet billions of dollars illegally on the big game,” Slane said. “But legal sports betting has never been more widespread than it is today.”
The seven new jurisdictions – Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D. C. – that have been added since 2020, offer legal online sports betting. Tennessee and Virginia are currently online-only markets.
The AGA’s research said 1.4 million Americans will place a Super Bowl bet at a sportsbook, which is down 61%.
“I suspect the increase in digital betting on the Super Bowl will overcome the reduction in retail, due to properties having less foot traffic because of COVID,” said Jason Scott, vice president of trading for BetMGM which operates sports betting in 12 states, including 10 with mobile sports wagering. “I’m expecting a net increase in regulated handle in general.”
‘A sports betting holiday’
On the Las Vegas Strip, where Super Bowl weekend is often one the year’s busiest non-holiday events with watch parties and other large gatherings. Those special events have been scuttled and Nevada gaming regulators reminded casino operators in a notice last month of the capacity limitations.
ESPN commentator Doug Kezirian, who hosts Daily Wager, which is broadcasted from studios overlooking the Strip, said the Super Bowl will always be “an American holiday and a sports betting holiday.” This year, the crowds will be missing.
“The popularity in the game is still there,” Kezirian said. “Betting is part of the fabric of the Super Bowl. Now, it’s expanded because of the growth of legal betting opportunities across the U.S.”
Longtime Las Vegas sportsbook operator Johnny Avello, who is head of sportsbook for DraftKings, expects a large wagering weekend because of the matchup – the defending Super Bowl champions versus a team led by Tom Brady, who be the starting quarterback in his 10th NFL championship contest.
Avello expects to see a large betting handle nationally, but not from Las Vegas.
“I’ve been in the town for 41 years. It’s a resilient town and it will bounce back,” Avello said. “I always said if you can’t come to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, you might as well just go to the game itself.”
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.