The sports betting industry has enjoyed explosive growth over the past few years as more and more states in the United States move to legalize the pastime.
The headlines have plateaued a bit in recent months because the vast majority of states have already legalized sports betting: instead of picking up the pace with each successive vote, the dominos have already fallen. While the industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, we aren’t seeing the same kind of exponential coverage as states race to be the next to legalize sports wagering and rake in the profits that we’d seen in the previous years.
Here’s a look at what’s driving the industry’s record pace, where the industry is growing the fastest in 2023 and the places where sports gambling could go online next.
Right now, a lot of the betting industry’s growth falls into a cycle of hills and valleys as major events (both planned and unplanned) spur prospective wagers to place bets. Planned events include things like the Super Bowl and March Madness, moments that spark billions of dollars in wagers placed as sports fans are swept up in the frenzy of the big game. March Madness caused explosive growth this year because of the wealth of upsets throughout the tournament. Its unpredictability makes it a ripe target for bettors, with upsets galore like Fairleigh Dickinson beating No. 1 seed Purdue despite being a +7000 underdog: when a small bet can earn you a car down payment, what’s not to love?
That unpredictability is an example of the unplanned events that help to spur expansion of the betting industry. The sportsbooks don’t know what’s going to happen (even if the house always wins). While they can plan for a betting buzz around a new sportsbook launching (many states enact legislation to insure that the books go live during the first couple months of the year so that bettors and bookies can combine the rush of bets placed during those aforementioned events with the excitement surrounding a new debut), other events happen organically that can encourage more customers to head to the books.
Take, for example, the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. Mobile sports betting went live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in March, just as the Celtics and Bruins began to gear up for historic playoff runs. The Celtics (at or around +210 to win it all at sports betting sites) have the runaway best odds to win the NBA Championship, as they have for much of the season. The Bruins, on the other hand, enjoyed the best regular season in NHL history, making them (you guessed it) runaway favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2023. Their +200 odds of winning the championship are three times better than their next closest competitor.
Thus, a perfect storm has hit the Bay State this year, with a pair of hometown teams poised to win it all in the same year the state made sports betting legal. Neither the bookies nor the state planned for it to happen that way, but they certainly aren’t complaining.
Another thing that’s helping the betting industry expand (even as the novelty wears off for some users) is the way that sportsbooks are continually looking for new events to add to the lineup of potential wagers.
Events that are traditionally underserved (like track and field) or not always considered sports by some obstinate fans (like esports or motorsports) are getting wrapped under the sports betting umbrella. When there’s a line available, people are going to bet on it, bringing renewed interest to the sports (which the leagues themselves love: sit down and watch a game for half an hour and count the number of betting ads you see). It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as the gambling sites tacitly endorse a sport by offering betting lines, bringing a frenzy of interest where there may not have been otherwise.
As of the start of April, sportsbooks oversaw a handle of $5.115 billion in bets placed across the country. The most impressive part of that number is that they reached it without the inclusion of the three biggest states by population: California, Texas, and Florida. Voters in California and Texas have, for the most part, been adamantly against the idea of legalizing sports betting (although the Lone Star State is starting to warm up on that front).
Florida legalized sports betting in 2021, but the industry has been in purgatory ever since because of a lawsuit between the state and some of the sovereign Native American tribes in the area: the state of Florida tried to step on their toes and prevent them from operating sports betting casinos (as is their right under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act). That lawsuit will have to shake out before sportsbooks can get up and running in the state, but the industry will explode in record fashion once it does so.