Just after 10 a.m. ET, on May 14, 2018, the United States Supreme Court jumpstarted the expansion of sports betting with a 14,700-word opinion that began, “Americans have never been of one mind about gambling and attitudes have swung back and forth.”
Five years later, with billions of dollars being wagered monthly with licensed bookmakers in the U.S., Justice Samuel Alito’s words remain poignant. The American pastime is out in the open, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Survey results released this week by the American Gaming Association found that 85% of American adults agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the federal statute that had restricted regulated sports betting to primarily Nevada. The betting industry is generating tax revenue for states and creating jobs. Some states (Kansas) have been disappointed by the early results and others (New York) ecstatic.
Sports betting has been infused into game broadcasts with commercials and in-game advertising. Meanwhile, point spreads and odds, which used to be taboo for league media partners, are now as common as scores and statistics.
At the same time, some states have experienced spikes in calls to problem gambling hotlines. Politicians have proposed bans on sports betting advertising; there’s been a recent uptick in gambling-related scandals in professional and collegiate sports, and athletes say they’ve seen an increase in social media abuse from bettors.
Indeed, sports betting is more popular and more accepted than ever before, but at what costs? It’s a question that America, like other countries with legal betting, will be wrestling with for decades to come.
In the meantime, here’s a by-the-numbers look at how the sports betting landscape has changed dramatically since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, along some commentary and analysis from experts in the space.
By the Numbers: The evolution of sports betting in America
2: The number of states — Nevada and, to a lesser extent, Delaware — that offered regulated sports betting before the Supreme Court decision.
33: The number of states that have launched legal betting markets since the Supreme Court decision. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also have legal betting markets, and Kentucky, Maine and Nebraska have passed legislation and are gearing up to launch later this year.
1%: The approximate percentage of the U.S. population that had access to legal sportsbooks in their state before the Supreme Court decision.
57%: The approximate percentage of the U.S. population that has access to legal sportsbooks in their state currently. California, Texas and Florida — the three most populated states — have yet to launch betting markets.
$5 billion: The approximate amount bet with Nevada sports in 2018.
$220 billion: The amount wagered with U.S. sportsbooks since May 2018, according to the American Gaming Association.
$17.6 billion: The approximate total net win for U.S. sportsbooks since 2018. [Source: Chris Altruda, a sports betting reporter for Bettor Collective, who tracks the monthly revenue reports from states https://twitter.com/AlTruda73].
$3 billion: The amount of state and local taxes generated by sports betting since May 2018 [Source: American Gaming Association]
39.2 million: The number of American adults who placed a sports bet in the last 12 months. [Source: American Gaming Association].
$21.4 million: The estimated amount spent by sportsbook brands on national TV commercials in 2019, the first full year of expanded regulated sports betting. [Source: iSpotTV]
$314.6 million: The estimated amount spent by sportsbook brands on national TV ads in 2022. [Source: iSpotTV].
1,492: The number of contacts to Ohio’s problem gambling hotline in January 2023, the first month the state offered a legal betting market. That’s three times more than in January 2022. [Problem Gambling Network of Ohio]
0: The number of NFL players that were suspended for violating the league’s gambling policy in the previous 10 years before the Supreme Court ruling.
7: The number of NFL players that were suspended for violating the league’s gambling policy in the first five years since the Supreme Court ruling.
Stakeholders’ sports betting takes
You are in the business of betting, as head of Right Angle Sports, an influential betting group and service that sells picks. How has the legalization of sports betting impacted your business?
“On the betting side, it’s been somewhat of a gold rush with more new outs and soft offering available than ever before, but they require jumping through many hoops to scale and sustain. For the first time in our group’s history, we’re seeing more long-term upside in pick sales than betting.
There remains an unsatisfied demand for sharp sports betting content and picks. Legalization has given us more opportunities with our live release shows and market influence to clearly differentiate ourselves from the typical prediction content out there.” — Ed Golden, professional bettor and owner of Right Angle Sports.
You are an advocate of modernizing approaches to combat problem gambling. Has anything surprised you about how the betting market has taken shape in the U.S. the last five years?
“On the problem and responsible gambling front, the biggest surprise has been a lack of surprises. Oversaturation of gambling ads, increased athlete harassment, pushback on the use of terms like ‘free bets,’ and an increase in the number of negative gaming industry articles were all heavy favorites to occur.
“I have two main concerns. First, as sports betting (and eventually) iGaming expand, they will come with a steep societal learning curve. This learning curve will be rough, but so will the overreaction to it. I fear the pendulum will continue swinging too far in each direction and we won’t get much traction to move forward in a healthy and productive manner.
“Second, I think we are overdue for a discussion on prioritizing problem and responsible gaming issues. We can’t address them all as there are simply too many fires burning at one time. We really need to sit down and develop a strategic plan that best utilizes resources to avoid duplication of efforts or wasted spend. Every piece is important, but they don’t all have equal impact.” — Jamie Salsburg, an advocate for increasing awareness for mental health, who has battled gambling addiction.
You won what many believe is the largest payout in American sports betting history, approximately $75 million on the Houston Astros winning the World Series. You’ve made sports betting a part of your business. What do you believe the pros and cons are from the legalization of sports betting?
“It’s good that sports betting is exploding across the nation. I’ve certainly partaken in it and generated a lot of interest for my business. But I think one of the biggest cons that these guys have to look at is, whether it’s alcohol or gambling, there’s a chance of addiction. You can lose your home, your car, your wife. You can lose everything.
“Secondly, I don’t think it’s right for sportsbooks to cut off winning bettors. If it’s me, and someone is lighting it up, I’d make sure they’re publicizing it and let them keep playing instead of cutting people off.” — Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture in Houston, who regularly places big bets to mitigate the risk of giveaways at his store.
You are an expert on gambling law and someone who followed the Supreme Court sports betting case closely. Looking back, what stands out to you from the Murphy vs. NCAA, et al, legal case? Do you have a prediction for the next five years?
“About a year before the Supreme Court’s ruling, it became increasingly evident to me that the entire lawsuit was a shrewd legal ruse by the five sports league who sued New Jersey in 2012 and again in 2014. The five leagues were in a win-win situation regardless of how the Supreme Court ruled.
“The next five years will see various teams and leagues consolidate power as ‘gatekeepers’ in the U.S. sports betting market. Whether through licensing schemes, integrity-risky data mandates, or equity stakes in sports betting companies, such teams and leagues will build on the legal arguments made during the Supreme Court case and strive to monetize sports wagering as much as possible.” — Ryan Rodenberg, a Florida State University professor who filed multiple amicus briefs in the case.
Greg Byrne, athletic director at Alabama, gave his thoughts on the changing gambling landscape and its impact on college sports this week. Last week, Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon was fired after being linked to alleged suspicious betting activating on an Apri 28 game between the Crimson Tide and LSU.
“Gambling and the acceptance of it has changed dramatically with online gaming,” Byrne said. “That is a societal decision. That’s a societal issue. We have a lot of things we train our student athletes, our coaches and our staff about on a daily basis, on an annual basis. I do think from an integrity standpoint within the game, to make sure that our student athletes, our coaches and our staff understand that there has to be a separation there. It’s critical. You see some schools being pretty aggressive embracing different gaming outlets. We haven’t done that as much. … There just can’t be any question from an integrity standpoint that we understand there has to be a separation there.” — University of Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne to the Tuscaloosa News.
As a college professor who has chronicled the evolution of sports betting in the U.S., what is your opinion on how the American sports betting market has taken shape since the Supreme Court decision?
“Five years in, I am shocked by the speed at which the market from zero to 100. More than 35 states legalizing and virtually every major professional league partnering with [betting] operators, it has all happened much faster than I would have thought.
“From a legislative perspective, I have been surprised by the willingness of each state to really build out its own market and charter its own path. We live in an era when a lot of state legislation originates out of bill factories, but we really have not seen that with sports betting. The thing that surprises me the most, however, is the rate of consolidation. There were people who were skeptical of the value of the daily fantasy sports customer lists that DraftKings and FanDuel had, but I think the combination of the customer lists and the familiarity of the consumers with the product have turned out to be huge advantages. I am interested to see what the next five years looks like and whether a Fanatics or a Google or a Microsoft or another well-resourced company can or want to make a run at the leaders.” — John Holden, associate professor at Oklahoma State University and regular commenter on gambling-related issues.