Records are made to be broken — some more quickly than others.
After the month of August 2020 set a new all-time high with $2.19 billion wagered at legal U.S. sportsbooks (crushing the previous best of $1.85 billion), September quickly announced itself as the Barry Bonds to August’s Mark McGwire.
US Bets had made some speculative calculations and landed on a “conservative” projection of $2.78 billion in September sports betting handle. That came close to the target, but it was indeed slightly conservative. The final tally landed at $2.86 billion.
Now here comes the “October surprise”: The record is going to fall again.
Of the seven legal sports wagering states that have shared their October handle and revenue figures so far, six of them saw increased action relative to September. And not just by a percentage point or two.
It seemed possible, given that October featured a dwindling number of MLB games, only five NBA games, and zero NHL games, that September would be the high-water mark for a while. We now know that won’t be the case. Sports gambling — in terms of people’s awareness of it, acceptance of it, and interest in it — just keeps expanding. October will leave September in the dust.
And unless something strange happens with several of the later-reporting states, when all is said and done, October is going to cross the $3 billion mark.
Numerical breakdown of first seven states to report
Here’s a look at the handle for the past two months for the seven states that have released October figures:
|STATE||SEPTEMBER HANDLE||OCTOBER HANDLE||CHANGE|
(For what it’s worth, in the one state in which handle declined, West Virginia, revenue actually increased marginally.)
Just with these seven states, national handle is already up about $160 million over September. That means if every other state proves to be stagnant from September to October, national wagering volume for last month will be $3.02 billion.
And there’s no reason to think they’ll be stagnant (especially when going from a 30-day month to a 31-day month). Colorado’s market, which just launched in May, is growing rapidly, approximately doubling every month. Illinois is expanding exponentially and is already the fourth-biggest sports betting state after only four months of mobile wagering. New York, which only has land-based sportsbooks, returned in October (but hasn’t shared betting handle statistics) after putting up zeroes due to COVID the previous six months. Even if Nevada dips a bit — as it traditionally does from September to October — that should be more than offset by all these near-certain gains elsewhere.
When the October totals come in over $3 billion, maybe landing around $3.1 billion or perhaps even $3.2 billion, it will tell us that college football is the second biggest betting attraction behind the NFL, and not by a little. NCAA football fans went from a sparse September schedule to a fairly normal October slate of games, and that was all it took to more than make up for those dwindling NBA and MLB numbers.
Upward trajectory to continue?
October will provide the third consecutive month of record-setting sports gambling dollars changing hands. Now the question becomes whether the streak can extend to four, or even five.
On the “pro” side for November: Legal sports betting awareness is an escalator that only goes up; Tennessee joined the party on Nov. 1 and early returns suggest it will add about $100 million to the pie in its first month; and the nonstop deluge of football games was complemented by the most mainstream golf tournament of the year, The Masters.
Per a new @EilersKrejcik report, 45% of the U.S. adult population now lives in a state where sports betting is legal.
— Ben Fawkes (@BFawkes22) November 17, 2020
On the “con” side for November: Some land-based sportsbooks, such as those in Detroit and Philadelphia, will be forced to close due to the fierceness of the pandemic. But that’s happening fairly late in the month. And the amount of wagering that takes place in person is pennies on the dollar compared to online and mobile. The problem is, in Michigan, those modern betting options aren’t available for another couple of months.
With an extra boost from Thanksgiving football, on a holiday many Americans will spend with far less social interaction than usual, the hunch here is that November, despite being a 30-day month, will narrowly break whatever record October ultimately sets.
But in a year as unpredictable as 2020, it’s probably best to hold off for now on speculating about December. That said, if football games proceed as scheduled and casinos stay open during the first month of winter, another record breaker is certainly possible.
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