A Closer Look At Where Super Bowl Betting Estimates Come From

Written By Steve Ruddock on January 31, 2019 - Last Updated on March 9, 2022
Super Bowl betting numbers

Correction: This story originally called into question the AGA’s methodology on what constitutes a bet on the Super Bowl. The AGA did provide a brief breakdown of its methodolgy and what constituted a “bettor” for the purposes of this survey in its full press release. The story has been edited to reflect that. PlayUSA regrets the exclusion.

In each of the last several years, the American Gaming Association (AGA) has released survey results estimating how much money will be wagered on the Super Bowl.

The AGA’s yearly press release and infographic always contain some tantalizing, eye-catching Super Bowl betting numbers, and this year was no exception. According to the AGA’s 2019 survey, one in ten American adults will wager a collective $6 billion on the game.

Statistics of this sort are great for grabbing headlines (and the attention of lawmakers), but this type of PR campaign isn’t without its issues.

The AGA should show its work

The biggest issue is the lack of transparency.

The infographic and press releases are easy to digest and are a solid foundation for a PR campaign. That said, it’s hard to put much stock into the findings without more information on how the AGA conducts the survey.

We do have this from the AGA on the :

This survey was conducted on behalf of the American Gaming Association by Morning Consult on January 22, 2019 among a national sample of 2,201 Adults. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of Adults based on age, race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment and region.  The margin of error is +/- 2% and greater among subgroups.

Bettors include those who expect to place a bet online, with a bookie, with a casino sportsbook, in a pool or squares contest, or casually with a friend.

Pundits will disseminate the survey on social media, and sports betting outlets will write about the results. But without the raw data (the original questions), very few pundits and outlets will look at the results critically.

Question phrasing is often used to influence poll and survey results, so seeing the questions in the same way and order as the respondents allow you to judge the merits of the results.

That’s a lot of growth for Super Bowl betting

One finding from the survey that could use an in-depth explanation is the top-line figure of $6 billion in wagers on the game.

In 2017 and 2018, the AGA estimated $4.7 billion would be wagered. That’s a 22 percent increase.

It’s unclear where the new $1.3 billion is coming from.

It’s not entirely from new legal markets.

Yes, several locales legalized sports betting in 2018, but PlayUSA.com is estimating legal wagers on this year’s game will amount to $325 million. That’s about double what it was in 2018 when legal betting was limited to Nevada.

Furthermore, the newly legalized markets should theoretically be taking a bite out of the illegal market. Thus, with legal revenue coming from a combination of new bettors and black market money that’s now being wagered in legal markets.

At face value, the increased betting in this year’s estimates implies the advancement of legal online betting has created a slew of new bettors who are flooding the black market.

Some of that is at least feasible, but again, we don’t have much insight if that’s the cause.

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Who bets what on the Super Bowl?

How that $6 billion is broken up is also important. Again, here’s how a bettor is defined for the purposes of this poll:

Bettors include those who expect to place a bet online, with a bookie, with a casino sportsbook, in a pool or squares contest, or casually with a friend.

In the past, the AGA’s estimated $10 billion would be wagered on March Madness, and that included $3 billion wagered on brackets. If a similar percentage of Super Bowl wagers are football squares, you can reduce the wagering amount by about $1.8 billion.

Technically, things like March Madness brackets and football squares are wagers, and if you want to get really technical, possibly illegal wagers in some locales, but this is definitely a situation that requires nuance.

Football squares are popular in bars and social clubs where you might pay $50, $100 or even more for a square. All or most of the prize-money is paid out to the winning numbers at the end of each quarter. A percentage of each entry set aside to pay for food and perhaps drinks in some cases.

Like March Madness brackets, you’ll find smaller buy-in squares in offices and at house parties.

Legal sportsbooks aren’t going to capture much if any of the football square market. In fact, they’re more likely to be used as promotional ploys and loss-leaders, like DraftKings Sportsbook is doing this year.

So, if the AGA’s goal is to demonstrate the potential revenue states are missing out on, football squares and other forms of casual gambling among friends shouldn’t be included in estimates of this kind, or try to quantify it.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is an avid poker player and a veteran member of the gaming media. His primary focus is on the regulated US online casino and poker markets. He writes for numerous online and print publications, including OnlinePokerReport.com, USPoker.com, and USA Today.

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