The Changing Landscape of Sports Betting in the United States

Sports betting in the U.S. is still a relatively new market, but the early successes in states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania are testament to the fact that people enjoy the pastime and are willing to spend money on it.

Sports betting is a huge global industry, reaching a market value of approximately $216 billion in 2019. People love to get involved with their favorite sporting events; placing a wager on the outcome gives people a personal stake in the results beyond simply celebrating a win for their team. The industry could now be set to expand even further as regulations change across much of the United States.

Regulations on sports betting in the U.S. have recently been relaxed following almost three decades of prohibition on the pastime in most states. Outside of Nevada, there have been limited options for Americans wanting to wager on their favorite sports, with only a handful of other states allowing any form of gambling on sports, but all that is now changing. Since the law changed in May 2018, several states have gotten plans underway to take advantage of the new legislation allowing for sports betting, and some already have bookmakers and online sportsbooks up and running and proving highly popular. New Jersey has already overtaken Nevada in terms of revenue from sports betting – the list of legal sportsbooks in New Jersey has reached 17 and counting, with states such as Pennsylvania and Indiana beginning to catch up, opening new sites and venues.

Mobile gambling has been a key driver of rapid growth in the U.S. online sports gambling industry. Sportsbook apps have proven one of the most popular ways to wager on sports among US citizens. States such as Mississippi, which has legalized online gambling but not mobile gambling, have seen far lower revenues than states like New Jersey that have opened the door to mobile sportsbooks. While New Jersey has opened several physical venues including bookmakers and casinos where people can go to place their bets, approximately 80% of all gambling revenue in the state comes from online services, with a large proportion of that coming via mobile devices.

Mobile apps can also be useful in helping ensure that the specific rules of each state are abided by when it comes to online gambling. Through the use of geofencing technology, gambling action taking place through apps can be kept within the borders of the state it is intended for. Many of the mobile apps use other methods to draw in customers as well, such as offering promotional welcome bonuses, free bets or deposit matching, loyalty programs and features such as live in-game betting. Due to demand, most sportsbook operators are focusing their services on being optimized for mobile as a priority over desktop applications.

Silhouette of crowd against an oversized hand holding a smartphone; image by Geralt; via

New Jersey is head and shoulders above the rest of the U.S. so far in terms of generating revenue from sports wagers. In the first 12 months after the practice was legalized, over $2.9 billion was taken in sports bets, representing approximately $200 million in sportsbook revenue. However, several other states are starting to pick up the pace and reap the rewards. As of August 2020, there were 18 states plus Washington D.C. where gamblers could bet on sporting events, with another four in the process of passing the legislation to legalize sports betting. Pennsylvania reported record-breaking total bets of just over $365 million in August 2020, with bettors keen to get back on the bandwagon after coronavirus left most live sporting events cancelled throughout spring and early summer.

Football is perhaps the most watched sport in America, and the Super Bowl is one of the biggest events of the year not only for football fans but also for international gamblers. In 2020, the American Gaming Association expects over 26 million people in the U.S. to place wagers on the outcome of the culmination of the football season, with around $6.8 billion in total bets forecast to be placed on Super Bowl LIV. This will make it the most wagered on Super Bowl in history in terms of legal gambling. The people of America have never before had such a range of opportunities to place legal wagers on the outcome of the country’s favorite sporting event. One survey showed that an estimated 82% of football fans were planning on placing a bet on this year’s grand finale. 

The NBA has been one of the most outspoken sporting leagues in terms of supporting the legalization of sports betting. Commissioner Adam Silver has stated a progressive viewpoint regarding how the legalization and officialization of sports betting can help to maintain the integrity of contests within the league. It can be difficult to calculate exact figures for sports betting, as offshore websites are not required to disclose their figures. However, the American Gaming Association estimated that U.S. gamblers wager around $50 million per year with offshore companies on sports outside of American football. With new markets opening all the time, the potential to generate revenue is huge.

Sports betting in the U.S. is still a relatively new market, but the early successes in states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania are testament to the fact that people enjoy the pastime and are willing to spend money on it. This holds huge potential for generating tax revenue for the states that get on board with it and make legal, online sports betting available to citizens. 


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