Super Bowl wagers rise to records as online sports betting sweeps US

FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM grapple over market share as access to legal sportsbooks booms

Gambling on the Super Bowl this year reached record highs, after legalized sports betting surged across the U.S. in 2021.

It is still unclear exactly how much money was wagered on Sunday’s game, in which the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20. But reports from gambling operators and state regulators indicate it was a huge day for the booming market.

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GeoComply, which monitors mobile sports-betting transactions, said it logged more than 80 million transactions over Super Bowl weekend, more than double that of last year, and 5.6 million unique accounts accessed legal online sportsbooks, a 95% increase from last year.

"The Super Bowl is the biggest single day for American sportsbooks, and this year didn’t disappoint," said Chris Grove, a gambling-industry analyst at research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, adding that the level of sports betting around this Super Bowl cemented it as a mainstream activity for sports fans in the U.S. "It seems like legal U.S. sportsbooks will easily eclipse a billion dollars in total wagers on the game," he said.

The FanDuel Inc. website is arranged for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPad in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Zia Morales/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Sports-betting executives say the National Football League championship game is a crucial moment to advertise their brands to millions of sports fans and persuade new customers to create betting accounts on their mobile phones. Companies such as FanDuel Group, DraftKings Inc., Caesars Entertainment Inc. and BetMGM, a joint venture of MGM Resorts International and British gambling firm Entain PLC are locked in a heated competition for market share. Online gambling, including sports betting and casino-style games, could become as much as a $40 billion industry, according to analysts and executives.

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The American Gaming Association, the gambling industry’s trade group, said 45 million more people had access to legal sportsbooks in their home states for the Super Bowl this year compared with last year, after 10 states including Arizona, Louisiana and Wisconsin allowed betting to begin.

That group projected that $7.6 billion would be wagered on the game, an estimate that included betting with illegal operators. Last year, the group estimates, about $500 million was bet legally on the Super Bowl, and the group expects that to more than double for this year.

Part of the argument for legalizing sports betting in the U.S. has been that such wagering has been already taking place, through unregulated offshore betting sites.

"Interest continues to grow in legal sports betting," said Casey Clark, the association’s senior vice president in strategic communications. "These aren’t necessarily new sports bettors. They’re sports bettors that have made their way to the legal market, and that’s encouraging."

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The National Council on Problem Gambling has said it has identified a significant increase in problematic gambling activity from 2018 to 2021, especially among sports bettors and younger gamblers. Amid the Super Bowl hype around sports betting, the group urged sports gamblers to understand the risks and have a plan for how to bet within limits.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
DKNG DRAFTKINGS INC. 12.41 -0.35 -2.74%
MGM MGM RESORTS INTERNATIONAL 29.17 -0.74 -2.47%
BETZ LISTED FUND TRUST ROUNDHILL SPORTS BETTING AN 14.53 -0.32 -2.15%
PDYPY FLUTTER ENTERTAINMENT PLC 50.91 -0.49 -0.95%
CZR CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT INC. 40.27 -2.70 -6.28%

Sports betting has been legalized in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court in 2018 issued a ruling that cleared the way for states beyond Nevada to allow the practice

The Super Bowl surge in betting followed a record-setting year for the commercial gambling industry overall, according to an American Gaming Association report released Tuesday. Last year, the gambling industry reported $53 billion in revenue, surpassing the previous record in 2019 of more than $43 billion, a 21% increase. The group attributed the growth to a strong recovery at bricks-and-mortar casinos, after the pandemic shutdowns of 2020, and to accelerating demand for sports betting.

In New York state, mobile sports betting began last month.

BetMGM said the state represented the largest number of its digital bets for Super Bowl weekend, and the company overall hit a new single-day record for the number of people depositing into a betting account for the first time.

"We’re encouraged by strong results over the weekend, with Super Bowl LVI being the most bet on Super Bowl to date," said BetMGM Chief Executive Adam Greenblatt.

DraftKings said total bets on the game through its sportsbook more than doubled compared with last year, including new states, and the company paid out $175 million to customers.

In Nevada, gamblers wagered a record of nearly $180 million on the Super Bowl, up 32% from last year, and sports-betting operators made about $15.4 million from that after paying out winning wagers, state regulators said this week.

In New Jersey, nearly $144 million was bet on the game—with operators taking in $7.8 million—up more than 20% from $117 million last year, according to regulators.

FanDuel Group said Rams’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was the top pick for bettors on who would score the game’s first touchdown, and the company paid out $4 million to customers after Mr. Beckham did just that in the first quarter.

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About 112 million viewers watched the game on NBC and its various sister platforms, according to Nielsen and NBCUniversal—up about 14% over last year’s contest.

Sports-betting ads, particularly in states where wagering is newly legal, have permeated television, radio and podcasting this NFL season, bringing a new level of awareness about legal gambling on sports to an American audience.

Write to Katherine Sayre at katherine.sayre@wsj.com