Happy Birthday Legal US Sports Betting: A Look Back at a Tremendous 2 Years

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Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of the US Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) which paved the way for legal sports betting that state-after-state has been welcoming in. While nobody will be blowing out birthday candles because of COVID-19, the occasion can't be overlooked as the world looks to get back to normal, existing states look to relaunch and some new states test the waters with regard to their own sports betting scene.

Since 2018, 17 states have joined Nevada in their implementation of legal sports betting. Four more plus Washington DC have passed their own legislation and are prepping to launch ahead of what everybody hopes is the commencement of a regular NFL season. Nevada is still King but other states have risen up and made a statement that they are after Nevada’s distinction of the most bet-friendly state in the US.

Exceeding expectations

By all accounts, the US sports betting industry has exceeded all expectations, generating $21.8 billion in bets since 2018. According to the American Gaming Association, just 30% of the US population is now able to place a legal wager on their favorite sports, and that number could significantly rise if and when states like California, Florida and Texas welcome their own form of the platform as they see it fit.

Mobile betting so far has been the biggest surprise in the legal sports betting space. Future states are officially on notice that betting apps are far more productive than brick-and-mortar facilities. New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana, just to name three have emerged as Heavyweight contenders thanks to mobile betting which makes up 84%-90% of those states' monthly handles.

New Jersey, which is in the process of passing Nevada as the King of US Betting States has reported 84% of their $4.6 billion handle since implementation coming via mobile means. Exceeding expectations in the US has so far been tied to states' acceptance and reliance of betting apps.

Other successes

Perhaps the biggest success for legal sports betting over the last two years is the relationship between the platform and sports leagues who cautiously entered into agreements with sports betting operators. Previously wary of the implications of allowing wagers on their sports, most leagues in North America have not only embraced the industry but have formed sponsorship and marketing partnerships with providers to maximize the benefits of sports betting.

States that have welcomed legal sports betting platforms have also won over the public with their lucrative taxation contributions to state and local coffers. Education, pension funds, water projects and other financial-needy projects have come to fruition because of the tax dollars being generated by legal sports betting in various states.

Some problems exist

There are some states that are still staunchly resistant to the idea of legal sports betting. Ideological differences exist and they don't seem as if they are going away anytime soon. The fact that California, arguably the most liberal state in the US, still has no legal sports betting platform is viewed by many as a failure. By bringing California on board, the percentage of US citizens legally allowed to bet on their favorite sport would climb to over 50%.

Other states like New York have been reluctant to adopt any sort of mobile betting, leaving the four upstate, out-of-the-way casinos as the only place in the state to place a sports bet. In turn, many New Yorkers are heading across the bridge, to New Jersey to place their bets. On the flip-side, others like Tennessee have opted for a mobile-only sports betting platform.

Lotteries' handling of various states' sports betting platforms has also created some problems. From the unfair odds in Tennessee resulting from unusually high hold rates, to Lottery Commissions being out of their leagues, to delays by commissions that don’t seem to be in a hurry in a few states, the Lottery-model has been what some insiders feel a disaster.

What you can't bet on has been a problem

Another hole that has emerged in the legal sports betting industry the last couple of years is on the topic of "What you can't bet on". The first is the lack of political betting, which would have certainly kept sportsbooks active during this time of total sports shutdown. Secondly is some states' reluctance to allow betting on college sports.

By not offering action on politics or college sports, bettors are visiting offshore sportsbooks, where they can and are wagering on those very events. Legal sports platforms in the US were designed in-part to do away with bettors seeking an offshore alternative but until the US platform is more all-encompassing, people will take their money overseas.


Sports in the United States is a passion. It was difficult to see, prior to 2018 how much betting was tied into that passion. Pre-COVID, the sports betting sector was in the midst of exponential growth, bigger and faster than most had envisioned.

Hopes are that punt-up demand for sports and sports betting is real and once sports returns, so too will the momentum of a previously exploding sports betting industry. Maybe on the next anniversary date we will be talking about the biggest industry comeback story ever!

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