Updated January 28, 2020 - 8:35 pm
About 26 million Americans are expected to bet on Super Bowl LIV, wagering roughly $6.8 billion on the championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, according to a new report from the American Gaming Association.
That’s more than 1 in every 10 American adults, and about 3 million more than the number last year.
The report, released Tuesday, found that the spread of legalized sports betting across the U.S. has opened doors for more Americans to place legal bets on the Super Bowl. While the gaming association hopes that this growth signals a dwindling market for illegal sports betting, one expert says the black market will continue to receive the majority of total sports bets.
Impact on illegal market
The association reported that about 75 percent of NFL bettors are more likely to watch a game they’ve bet on, and it expects the NFL to earn about $2.3 billion annually from increased fan engagement because of sports betting.
“When Americans have skin in the game, it’s clear they are more likely to tune in,” gaming association president and CEO Bill Miller said during a media call Tuesday. “If done responsibly, sports betting is a significant opportunity for the sports leagues to deepen fan engagement and unlock significant revenue streams.”
According to the association, viewership for NFL games rose 5 percent in 2019, up another 5 percent from 2018, the year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling that banned sports betting in most states.
Brendan Bussmann, a partner at Global Market Advisors, said the rapid expansion of sports betting could also help quell illegal sports wagering.
“While (the NFL has) remained on the sidelines for sports betting over their tenure, it’s part of the game. It’s been happening in NFL stadiums for decades in an illegal way,” Bussmann said. “The best way to control the market is to make it legal.”
But Chris Grove, an analyst at Eilers and Krejcik Gaming, believes that the majority of bets will continue to be placed with illegal sportsbooks despite the rapid expansion of legalization by policymakers. The gaming association estimates that Americans illegally bet at least $150 billion on sports every year.
Grove said that although some of the legal market’s growth comes from bettors migrating away from illegal markets, most is from new bettors who would not have wagered otherwise.
“Illegal sports betting channels will continue to offer stiff competition for legal sportsbooks, especially if policymakers saddle legal sportsbooks with high tax rates and license fees or place restrictions on mobile sports betting,” he said.
Miller said the number of illegal bets placed this year is expected to be consistent with that of last year, but he believes that the spread of regulated sports betting should provide bettors a viable alternative to the black market. By this time next year, legal sports betting could be available in as many as 30 jurisdictions, Miller said.
“There are no signs that this rapid pace is going to slow down,” he said. “Forty-five out of the 50 states have considered authorizing sports betting. Policymakers across the country understand that this just makes sense.”
Numbers behind the growth
At this time last year, eight states offered legal, regulated sports betting. Today there are 14, with six more states and the District of Columbia poised to open legal betting markets in the coming months.
Miller said this growth helped bolster Super Bowl LIV’s betting numbers.
“I am hard-pressed to come up with another example where something has moved this quickly through statehouses all over the country,” Miller said. “2019 was an unprecedented year for legal sports betting.”
Analysts for PlayUSA.com expect the game will bring in more money than ever through legal sportsbooks, despite the fact that the state hosting the game and the home states of both teams have yet to legalize sports betting.
Bussmann said this year’s competitors could also drive more betting. Both teams have relatively young quarterbacks, and this will be the first time the Chiefs have played in a Super Bowl since 1970.
“Kansas city being in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years is sort of a special thing,” Bussmann said. “Interest in the game helps (attract more bettors).”
The gaming association found that about 52 percent of fans are set to bet on the Chiefs. PlayUSA.com reported Tuesday that the Chiefs are a consensus 1½-point favorite over the 49ers, and the over/under is set at 54 points.
“An interesting matchup that is nearly a pick ’em will help spur action,” PlayUSA.com lead analyst Dustin Gouker said in a Tuesday press release.