If US sports betting had its own national holiday, it would no doubt be a commemoration of Super Bowl Sunday. Millions of fans around the world wager billions of dollars on the annual NFL football championship, making it the most anticipated day of the year for bookmakers and bettors alike.
PlayUSA projects that Americans will legally wager more than $500 million on Super Bowl LV across all regulated US markets, representing a substantial uptick from the estimated $300 million in 2020.
This year’s grand gambling celebration lands on Feb. 7 with an epic quarterback matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. While Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the first team in league history to host the Big Game in their home stadium, they remain a consensus three-point underdog to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sportsbooks expect a shootout too, with the total brushing up against a Super Bowl record 57 points.
Betting big on Super Bowl LV
The repeal of the federal sports betting ban in 2018 has already reshaped the broader US gambling industry, rechanneling billions of dollars in wagers that would otherwise have been lost to illegal offshore operations. Regulated operators in 20 states plus the District of Columbia are booking action on this year’s Super Bowl, up from 14 states in 2020 and 8 in 2019 — and, of course, just Nevada alone prior to that.
“With the expansion of legal sports betting over the last year, both in terms of new markets and growth within existing markets, a historic weekend is inevitable,” said lead analyst Dustin Gouker. “Half a billion dollars or more bet on one game seems almost unfathomable, but considering the direction of the US market, that handle is easily within reach.”
Nevada sportsbooks & Super Bowl Sunday
Name a more iconic duo.
Despite the proliferation of regulated sports gambling elsewhere in the US, the Silver State has so far retained its golden crown as the king of Super Bowl betting. Nevada sportsbooks handled $154.7 million in Big Game bets in 2020, up 5.99% from the year before. According to official reporting, only Super Bowl LII in 2018 drew more betting activity than last year’s game.
Like the state itself, Nevada sportsbooks are heavily reliant on action from visiting gamblers. And Super Bowl Sunday is typically a perfect excuse for bettors to flock to Las Vegas by the thousands. This year is far from a typical year, though. The COVID pandemic has altered travel plans and forced casinos to operate at 25% capacity, limitations that will likely put a visible dent in the state’s Super Bowl handle.
If there’s one wager that’s a near-lock, though, it’s this one: Las Vegas sportsbooks will win millions of dollars from bettors on Super Bowl Sunday. Nevada has only lost money on the Super Bowl twice in recorded history, in fact — XXIX (1995, 49ers/Chargers) and XLII (2008, Giants/Patriots).
Online sports betting fundamental to Super Bowl success
Not only has the US market nearly doubled in size, but American bettors now make a higher percentage of their bets online compared with a year ago. Jurisdictions with robust online and mobile betting will therefore be less affected by their own restrictions on mass gatherings.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania are in prime position in that regard, with 92% of their $9.6 billion in combined wagers originating online in 2020. That dynamic is only magnified for the Super Bowl, where the speed and convenience of sports betting apps facilitate a diverse menu of props and in-play markets.
Unlike their Nevada counterparts, however, books in NJ and PA do not have a winning Super Bowl record so far. Those two markets lost a combined $7.5 million on the game last year, though a portion of those losses stems from aggressive bonusing surrounding the event.
According to Gouker, whether or not books turn a profit isn’t the primary measure of success during this growth phase in the US. “With the expansion of the sports betting market,” he said, “it’s close to a certain win for the industry, with the potential to reach more customers than ever before.”
Not all Super Bowl betting created equal
Despite this ongoing rechanneling, the amount of money wagered legally on Super Bowl LV will still pale in comparison to the amount wagered illegally.
The American Gaming Association last year estimated that Americans wagered a total of $6.8 billion on Super Bow LIV, and less than $300 million of that was conducted via regulated operators. While the conversion rates should increase as more states liberalize sports betting and existing markets mature, Super Bowl Sunday continues to represent an enormous windfall for illegal bookmakers in 2021.
For policymakers, then, Super Bowl Sunday provides perhaps the starkest evidence in favor of legalization and regulation. Americans will continue to bet uncountable billions of dollars via offshore sites and local bookies, particularly in states that don’t provide them with any legal option.
Regulated markets, meanwhile, combined to generate more than $225 million in combined tax revenue from legal sports betting in 2020.
Super Bowl LV betting fact sheet
You can download the fact sheet here.