Every national holiday has its celebratory trappings and the Super Bowl is no different.
Instead of gaily wrapped presents or a turkey or Easter egg hunts, Super Bowl Sunday has big screen TVs to gather around, finger food to gorge on, over-hyped commercials to judge, and — gambling on every aspect of the game.
A late-winter sports event that has become a cultural touchstone now counts gambling as a near-essential ritual of this (almost) universally observed annual denouement of the NFL season.
The gambling ranges from parlor-game quarter-by-quarter scoring squares (which no one really understands) to multi-million-dollar bets with big-time sportsbooks.
To engage in some fancy crystal-balling, let’s try figuring out how much cash fans, rabid and casual, will wager collectively with the legion of licensed sports gambling operators now taking bets, either at an actual sportsbook or online, in the 30 states and the District of Columbia where sports betting has been legalized.
Last year, when Tampa Bay routed Kansas City, 31-9, there was regulated sports betting in 20 states and D.C., and the legal wagering – despite incomplete official results from around the country – was presumed to be in the range of $500 million to more than $600 million. That was about double the previous year.
So, this year there are 10 more states with legal sportsbooks. Plus, New York, where the gambling temperature always runs a high fever, just launched online sports gambling, which recently topped $1.6 billion in the state’s first month of operation, a national record.
So, for single-event handle, a safe over-under on Super Bowl LVI between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams at L.A.’s SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13 is a cool $1 billion. And that’s a conservative estimate.
AGA Expects More Gambling
The American Gaming Association, the trade group that represents the gaming industry, estimates 31.4 million American adults plan to bet a combined $7.61 billion on the Big Game. In that universe of wagering, the AGA estimates 18.2 million of those folks will place traditional sports wagers online, at a retail sportsbook or with a bookie (up 78% from 2021), and 18.5 million plan to bet with friends or as part of a pool, such as a squares contest (up 23%).
Reflecting the proliferation of legal sports gambling in the U.S., 4.7 million fans (up a whopping 231%) are expected to wager in-person at a sportsbook, and 12.9 million (an increase of 70% from last year) will bet online.
Johnny Avello, who heads sportsbook operations for sports betting giant DraftKings, has been overseeing the sports gambling business for more than three decades in Las Vegas and was recently inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame.
Avello has a calm, studied view of the Super Bowl landscape informed by hard-earned experience both behind the counter and across the Internet.
“There’s no Kansas Chiefs. There’s no Tom Brady. There’s no Aaron Rodgers. And for those reasons, some people think the action will be down,” Avello said. “But in my opinion, no player is bigger than the game itself.
“We’re going to get some big individual bets,” Avello added. “We already have.”
$1 Billion Seems Like Safe Call
Avello takes the long view.
“I don’t want to specify a number (on handle) but the NFL playoffs have been very strong for us at DraftKings,” the sports betting veteran said. “We’re in more states than we were last year. We have more content. Now, you never know how the game itself is going to go, but as far as handle, I think it’s going to be a banner year for us.”
So, a $1 billion national handle with the universe of bookmaking companies that make up the emerging legal sports betting industry seems a safe call. Meanwhile, how much is wagered with illegal sources or among friends is the stuff of pure conjecture and sure to be far greater.
However, just as the game’s attraction goes beyond the presence of any given team or player, as Avello noted, the furious gambling action and what it says about America’s proclivity for putting its money where its opinion is, isn’t so much about an exact number. Rather, it serves as a reminder that in having a stake in the Super Bowl, regardless of how great or modest the bet, gives folks the delicious thrill that they are personally part of this national event.