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The kickoff of football season ushers in a months-long surge for fantasy sports and sports betting in the US.
Sports betting, especially, is poised for a breakout 2018-19 campaign as it expands beyond Nevada for the first time. Thanks to the US Supreme Court ruling on PASPA in spring, folks in four other states are wagering on games as we speak.
In the spirit of ascribing way too much value to early-season sports data, we thought it fitting to rank the current participants in the imaginary US Sports Betting League (USSBL).
Revenue will be a key metric, for sure, but it’s not the only variable. The location and number of sportsbooks, the status of online/mobile betting and the regulatory landscape merit some consideration, too. This list reflects the overall financial and operational situation, and the general state of affairs through the August reporting period.
Without further ado, here are the power rankings to start the sports betting season:
AP polls did not factor into these rankings, nobody gets a vote, and our formula falls well short of a provable mathematical model. But let’s dig in, anyhow.
The Silver State has regulated sports betting since just after the last World War, setting the standard for new and emerging markets.
Although four contenders have entered the arena to the east, the reigning champion of US sports betting still has a big edge in the “reach” column. With more than 100 sportsbooks scattered across the state, it’ll be a while before it notices the competition elsewhere.
Regulators haven’t released the August numbers yet, but last year’s data gives us an idea of what to expect.
Nevada bettors wagered more than $300 million in August 2017, all all-time record for the month. Mayweather vs. McGregor accounted for a big chunk of that handle, so expect those numbers to tail off a bit without a premier fight on the card this August. Still, Nevada’s position atop the US leaderboard is secure.
Nevada is protected for now, at least. The gap back to second place is wide, but the pack is definitely drawing in.
2. New Jersey
Sports betting in New Jersey launched in mid-June, and bettors wagered around $40 million during the first full month of operation. That number ballooned to $95 million in August, with preseason football driving an above-average percentage of the action.
Although young and subject to growing pains, the roots of NJ sports betting are beginning to take hold. There are now eight retail sportsbooks in the state and another eight online/mobile platforms up and running, and revenue is trending sharply upward.
Considering the current wind in NJ’s sails, the September numbers could end up being phenomenal. Set the over/under for handle at $300 million, with plenty of headroom remaining in the market. Gaming consultancy Eilers & Krejcik projects an NJ/NV flip-flop atop the standings by 2021.
New Jersey is driving on Nevada, but we won’t know how deep it has marched into nine-figure territory for a couple more weeks.
Behind New Jersey, Mississippi has become the most enticing state for prospective operators and suppliers. Partnerships are materializing briskly, and a handful of large gambling companies are establishing their turf.
At least 20 of the 28 casinos already offer sports betting, with the natives even getting into the game. The Choctaw recently became the first tribal nation outside of Nevada to open a sportsbook.
The Mississippi market is drawing a lot of interest, but the short-term potential is somewhat capped. The existing law makes no allowance for online/mobile betting outside of casino walls.
That being said, bettors still wagered close to $6.3 million during the first month of operation, easily enough to snag one of the top few spots. Sportsbooks held about $645,000 in revenue.
Mississippi’s regional monopoly should continue to attract bettors from neighboring states, a luxury that is starting to evaporate in the northeast.
If these power rankings were focused on state revenue, Delaware would be in contention for the top spot.
The DE Lottery is (and will continue to be) the biggest winner in state-regulated sports betting. It administers wagering through the state’s three casinos, skimming one full half of the proceeds for its troubles.
Those casinos aren’t allowed to use all the features of their new toy, either. Citing a need to gather more information, regulators are likely to delay approval for online/mobile betting through the end of the year.
Considering the limitations of population and implementation, $700,000 or so in August revenue seems like a pretty decent number. Unfortunately for Delaware, it has lost whatever fleeting grasp it had when it was the only eastern state with sports betting. It now faces direct competition from New Jersey, and sports betting in Pennsylvania is coming soon, too.
Don’t expect little Delaware to leap out of the bottom few spots any time soon, but try not to give it a hard time. It’s only small, you know.
5. West Virginia
Hollywood Casino held its grand opening ceremonies on Sept. 1, booking about $640,000 in wagers through Labor Day weekend. Apart from that little nugget, there’s not much data to help establish a ranking, but you’ve no doubt noticed where it ended up.
It’s not the newness that puts WV sports betting in last place, nor its size or appetite for the industry. No, something sinister is afoot behind closed doors, in a growing rift between the lottery, the legislature and the governor that threatens to stifle progress.
If the immediate concerns go away, the outlook for WV sports betting is actually rather good. Regulators expect all five casinos to be taking action before the end of the year, and mobile/online betting is imminent, too. FanDuel Sportsbook and William Hill should be the first two platforms to launch.
Provided the front office can get its act together, the Mountain State shouldn’t be stuck at the foot of the hill for much longer. Both the top and the bottom of these rankings should be pretty interesting next month.