The Coronavirus Pandemic’s Surprise Effect on Sports Betting

Oct 15, 2020 05:10Tim Ronaldson
Pandemic effects sports betting

At the beginning of the year, sports betting in the United States was booming. States around the country that had already passed sports betting laws were reaping the benefits from extra revenue, while other states were formulating their own legislation to take advantage, too.

Sportsbooks around the country were preparing for the spring push of the March Madness NCAA men's basketball tournament, the arrival of the Major League Baseball season, as well as the start of playoffs for the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association.

And then, all at once, it came crashing to a halt. When the coronavirus pandemic arrived on U.S. soil, major sports around the country shut down. In a few-day span in mid-March, all major professional sports franchises put play on hold, while the NCAA canceled all championship tournaments, including March Madness basketball.

The Immediate Effect on Sports Betting

The shutdown of all major sports, as well as the shutdown of sportsbooks themselves that operate out of land-based casinos, was devastating for the industry. The American Gaming Association estimates that the total amount wagered on the NCAA basketball tournament is $8.5 billion every year -- a larger total than is wagered on the Super Bowl.

Not only was did that revenue go up in smoke with the pandemic, but so, too, did any revenue associated with other sporting events.

The shutdowns didn't just hurt sportsbooks, either. Bettors who had futures tickets on the NCAA tournament lost out on potential big paydays. Some bettors held tickets on Dayton to win the tournament at great odds of 35-to-1.

While online sportsbooks remained open for business during the pandemic, many thought the industry would come to a complete standstill with most professional sports halted for play. But instead, something interesting happened.

Bettors Shift to What's Available

The pandemic's arrival didn't quell the desire of many Americans to bet on sports -- even as the most popular sports were no longer playing. People turned to little-known events such as table tennis and darts to get their sports gambling fix.

Indiana sportsbooks raked in $74 million in revenue in March, and $26.3 million in April. More than half the bets wagered by Indiana residents at PointsBet online were on table tennis in the spring. Similar trends happened around the country, too.

While the revenue sportsbooks around the country were raking it while major sports were on hold certainly wasn't as high as operators would've liked, at least it was something.

Bettors Get Familiar with Online Sports Betting

One side effect of the coronavirus pandemic is it forced sports bettors to turn to online sportsbooks to wager. With physical sportsbook locations closed, they had no other option.

While 18 states and Washington, D.C., offer legal sports betting, not all allow online sports betting. Those that didn't when the pandemic shut down retail operations experienced a complete loss in sports gambling revenue. That has led many states to consider pushing forward with legislation that would make online sports wagering legal within the state's borders.

Rhode Island, for example, is moving in that direction. In July, a bill passed in the state that would allow residents to register for a sports betting account online rather than forcing them to travel to the two casinos in the state that have sportsbooks.

With the continued movement of many aspects of life to online platforms, it's only natural to assume that states that are currently considering sports wagering legislation will also try to work in online forms of betting. And those states that have legalized sports betting, but not online forms of it, may change their minds on that as well.

Records Break Once Sports Return

When major professional sports in the United States returned in August, the sports bettors came out in droves to place their wagers. New Jersey set a new record for sports gambling handle in one month, reaching $668 million in August.

That was twice as much as the state raked in during July ($315 million). The eye-opening stat wasn't just the total amount of handle, though. Mobile sports wager accounted for almost all (90.1%) of the entire handle.

The previous monthly handle record was set by Nevada, when it recorded $614.1 million in November 2019.

New Jersey wasn't the only state that experienced a huge boost in sports betting handle in August, either. In Iowa, it rose 120.1% over July to $50.3 million. In West Virginia, it almost tripled, totaling $45.9 million. In Indiana, it increased more than 50% to $169 million.

The amazing thing about those numbers is that they occurred without the National Football League or NCAA football playing. New Jersey hasn't released data for September's sports wagering handle yet, but many people anticipate it could set even more records.

Last September, New Jersey's total handle for sports betting was $445.6 million. That number was a record at that point in time. Of that total, $188.6 million was wagered on football alone.

What's the Future?

Sports betting has a bright future in the United States long-term. In the short-term, legal sportsbooks in states throughout the country should continue to reap the benefits of the time off building pent-up demand, as well as teaching people the ease of betting online.

As long as sports don't have to take another hiatus due to another coronavirus outbreak, bettors should continue to be heavily involved in sports betting throughout the U.S.

Tim Ronaldson
Lady Liberty
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Tim Ronaldson is a writer, blogger and marketer. He loves all things sports, especially covering the sports betting industry. He joined the AmericaGambles Team 2020 and is mainly responsible for columns and extensive reportage articles.
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