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Super Bowl LV may have been the biggest event in U.S. sports history in one category: legal sports betting.
This year, as many as 23 million Americans bet on the Kansas City Chiefs or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the American Gaming Association. Bets on the underdog and eventual winners Buccaneers or on the defending champions, the Chiefs — and on many other aspects of the game — surpassed a staggering $4 billion.
But being able to bet legally on sports is a relatively new development in most of the U.S., where sports betting was legal only in Nevada until 2018.
That was when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a federal statute — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, of 1992 — which limited regulated sports betting to Nevada. It’s now legal in 20 states, and many others are pushing to legalize it.
The growth of legal sports betting has been “extraordinary” since then, an ESPN story said.
“In 2019, over $13 billion was legally wagered,” says Casey Clark, Senior Vice President of Strategic Communications at the American Gaming Association. “Once all the numbers are counted for 2020, that figure will be over $21 billion.”
The sports betting capital of the United States isn’t Nevada anymore: It’s New Jersey, where people placed $6 billion worth of bets last year compared to $4.3 billion in Nevada, according to sports betting expert Darren Rovell.
With people confined at home because of the pandemic, 80% of gaming nationwide happens on mobile devices, Clark says.
“Nearly every American will have a casino in their back pocket at all times,” says Marc Edelman, an expert in sports law who teaches at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, in New York. It’s reasonable to expect a majority of states to legalize online sports gambling within the next five years, Edelman says.
If you want to bet on the big game, experts recommend only betting as much as you’re looking to lose, and treating it as entertainment only.
With the growing ease of betting legally on sports, you might be asking yourself: Should I join in?
There are people who have picked their bets correctly and made millions, Edelman says, but they’re few and far between. “For most people, betting is meant to be an activity of entertainment instead of investment,” he says.
In fact, if you think you’ve got what it takes because you are a big sports fan, you might want to think twice: sports betting is a game for numbers geeks. Those who have traditionally been the most successful at it, Edelman says, are people with strong mathematical skills who can consider complex analyses.
For those enthusiasts, there are two main players in the sports betting industry, websites FanDuel and DraftKings. They dominate the market in the states that have what’s known as “full online sports betting with multiple options” — Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, according to sports betting news and analysis site Action Network.
In most states today, sports betting is still illegal. The others fall into three groups. In one, such as New York, sports betting is legalized in a small number of brick-and-mortar casinos. In another group, such as Tennessee, online sports gambling is allowed, though sports betting in casinos is not. In the fourth group, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, sports betting in both casinos and online is legalized and regulated.
Anywhere you may be, though, sports betting is still betting, with all its risks. You should not bet more than you can afford to lose.
Clark notes that his organization put together a PSA earlier this year, Have a Game Plan, for bettors to educate themselves on how to bet responsibly. They can also use an interactive map to get more information on what type of sports betting is legal in their state.
For people who want to bet on sports, Edelman suggests betting a small amount of money, and doing it for entertainment only: “Don’t put yourself in the kind of position [where] losing will have any adverse effects on your day-to-day,” he says.
You should stick to a licensed sportsbook like PointsBet, as well as FanDuel or DraftKings, Edelman advises. Doing so will ensure your potential winnings will be paid to you and minimizes the risk of identity fraud.
If you prefer to bet in person, “make sure you’re doing it in a fun and social way with people you know and trust,” he says. (As well as respecting social distancing and any COVID-19 guidance from local authorities, of course.)
Super Bowl or not, sports betting can be a fun way to make some extra cash if you are able to do so safely, but we definitely don’t advise partaking as a short- or long-term financial strategy. If you’re looking to grow the money in your bank account in a low-risk way, you’ll be much better off putting it in a high-yield savings account and, when the next Super Bowl rolls around, enjoying it like most Americans do: focusing on the commercials, not the bets you may have made.
If you or someone you love needs help with a gambling problem, the National Council on Problem Gambling offers a support hotline by phone or text at 1-800-522-4700, as well as chat support at ncpgambling.org/chat.