Three states with legal, regulated online/mobile sports betting — Indiana, Iowa, and West Virginia — have reported their September sports betting handle figures already, and the two leading mobile betting states — New Jersey and Pennsylvania — are due to share their numbers toward the end of the week.
But we don’t have to wait for those two major Northeastern states to report to be able to confidently say this: September 2020 will smash all national sports betting records.
The industry is coming off a record-busting August, in which bettors in 17 states plus Washington, D.C., wagered a combined $2.19 billion at legal sportsbooks. The previous single-month record was $1.85 billion. August is not traditionally a major sports gambling month, but with the NBA and NHL in playoff mode and MLB in full swing, it was clear there would be a massive increase from normal betting volume.
The question for September is not whether it will bump August to the silver-medal podium — it’s by how much. Sports betting potentially could cross the $3 billion threshold just one month after the $2 billion ceiling cracked for the first time.
The football effect
In September, MLB games kept cranking at the same pace as in August. The NBA’s volume reduced slightly, but the spotlight on the games increased as the conclusion of the regular season gave way to best-of-seven playoff series. And the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs kept going all month, albeit with fewer and fewer teams as the postseason progressed.
What August didn’t have was football. The NFL kicked off on Sept. 10. College football returned — at least in some conferences — the week prior. It is a fact that football makes the American sports betting world go ‘round.
We can see in the three states that have calculated and shared their September figures already that betting is up across the board.
In Indiana, handle was up 22.7% over August, from $169 million to a new state record of $207.5 million.
Iowa, a state with mobile sports betting but hampered by an in-person registration requirement, had a bigger percentage uptick, increasing 43.9% in September to $72.4 million.
And West Virginia reported sports betting handle for September of $76.9 million, up a whopping 90.3% over August’s $40.4 million.
The degree to which a state will see its numbers increase is prone to variation based on two primary factors: how close to maturity the state’s betting market is, and how football mad the state is.
New records coming in New Jersey, elsewhere
New Jersey set an all-time record for any state in any month with its August haul, when $668 million was bet on sports in the Garden State. As the state is relatively mature — there was no influx of new operators last month, and awareness of legal sports betting is high with the state now two-plus years into this vertical — a percentage increase on the lower end of the spectrum is likely. Let’s be conservative and say it will fall shy of Indiana’s 22.7%. If it’s half that — 11.35% — that means New Jersey will report $744 million in sports bets this Thursday.
Pennsylvania set its own state record in August with $365 million wagered, but it isn’t quite as mature a market as neighboring New Jersey. In fact, PA welcomed a major new sportsbook in mid-September, and Barstool got off to a head-turning start. Add in what a football-loving state it is, with two passionate NFL markets, and the PA numbers could see a serious spike. If we place it at the midpoint between Indiana and Iowa, at a 33.3% increase, that would mean sports bettors wagered $486.5 million in the state last month.
Nevada is the third major betting state that has the potential to cross the half-billion dollar mark in a football month. The Silver State, despite in-person casino visits suffering significantly due to COVID-19, is coming off its biggest August ever, with $474.5 million wagered on sports. In September 2019, Nevada handled $546.2 million in bets. It seems realistic to predict about the same in September 2020, with the increased general popularity of sports betting and the limitations on traveling to Vegas and hanging out at sportsbooks roughly canceling each other out. That would equate to a 15.1% increase from August 2020 to September 2020, which would still be conservative relative to the three states that have reported so far this month.
A larger increase seems likely in Colorado, which has seen its sports betting handle rise every month since it launched in May, soaring to $128.6 million in August. If anything, a 50% increase might not be an ambitious enough estimate, but let’s use that and say September handle for Colorado will land around $192.9 million.
In Illinois, even more signs point to explosive growth in September. August handle of $139.6 million made a statement, but that was with several sportsbooks not operational for the full month — most notably DraftKings, which launched Aug. 5, and FanDuel, which got up and running Aug. 28. PointsBet and William Hill both joined the party in Illinois in mid-September. That 90.3% increase seen in West Virginia won’t be hard to duplicate here, and it would land Illinois September sports betting at $265.7 million.
Final tally: Is $3 billion in play?
The smaller sports betting jurisdictions, most of which don’t have mobile options — Arkansas, Delaware, D.C., Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island — combined for $150.5 million in handle in August. If we give them the smallest bump we’ve seen so far, Indiana’s 22.7%, that means they’ll add up to $184.7 million in September.
Combine the September numbers we’ve seen already with the projections outlined here, and that would make the total national September sports betting handle $2.78 billion.
But remember: In most cases, our projections leaned toward the lower end of the realistic possibilities. If the American Gaming Association tells us in a few weeks that September produced more than $3 billion in betting handle nationwide, nobody should be surprised.
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