Sports Betting America: AGA’s big picture in focus as NFL season starts

Sports Betting America: AGA’s big picture in focus as NFL season starts

  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
September 8, 2021 10:39 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

The sports world is awash in statistics, but even its most avid numbers junkies have to tip their caps to the lusty figures pouring out of the rapidly expanding legal-betting industry as the National Football League’s regular season ramps up.

The American Gaming Association’s research into the depth of fan affection for sports betting has produced nothing short of head-spinning statistical estimates. The AGA’s survey was conducted in late August by Morning Consult. With a national sample of 2,200, its expected margin of error is plus/minus 2 percent.

Beyond the big numbers, the growth of the market, as new states come online and fans increase their own participation, is undeniable.

Betting on football has always been popular. When Nevada sports books offered essentially the only legal action in the country, illegal operations booked millions each week. But this is not your Uncle Jack’s industry anymore.

By the AGA’s measure, 45.2 million Americans will place a bet during the 2021 NFL season, an increase of 36 percent over the truncated season last year.

Baishampayan Ghose [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The gambling methods themselves are almost as varied as the customers to whom they’re marketed. Although most people bet on games casually among friends, the anticipated increase is 31 percent over last season.

The bookmakers aren’t fighting over the same piece of pie. The pie is expanding as new markets in new states open up and the last American pariah gambling activity emerges from the shadows. With nearly one-third of the nation’s population now able to bet legally in 24 jurisdictions, it’s hard to imagine any contraction in the market for the foreseeable future.

It’s also no big surprise that many millions of betting fans are choosing convenience and reliable name brands. With 19.5 million expected to place a bet online – a staggering 73 percent increase over 2020 – the internet is steadily emerging as many people’s favorite sports book location.

Another 14.6 million will spend money to participate in fantasy sports contests and sports pools. That’s up 69 percent and I think it offers a reminder that for legions of fans, having a little skin in the game adds to the fun and is a substantial part of the overall entertainment quotient.

It may be due in part to loosening restrictions during the pandemic, but it’s estimated that 10.5 million people will enter a physical casino sports book. That’s not only up 58 percent from last, year, but it also provides a baseline for brick-and-mortar operators in challenging times.


On a given Sunday, some of the biggest sports books in the country just might be at some of the football stadiums themselves, as fans warm up to the convenience of wagering kiosks. Was it just a few years ago that the site of betting kiosks in London stadiums was a point of controversy prior to the NFL’s annual roadshow there?

AGA President and CEO Bill Miller is understandably enthusiastic about the figures, which provide nothing short of a national advertisement for legalized sports betting, as well as the start of the NFL season.

But he nails it when he reminds us, “Fans are the heartbeat of professional sports and leagues like the NFL are realizing the full potential of sports betting to drive fan engagement. To capitalize on this tremendous opportunity, the NFL and its 32 teams must also realize their responsibility to educate fans and promote responsible gaming.”

As the NFL season prepares to kick off, restraint and responsibility aren’t likely to be in the forefront of the minds of millions of football-crazed fans. With so much at stake and so many eyes watching, the AGA and the nation’s legal sports betting industry can’t afford to rest.