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Legalized sports betting in the U.S. doubled in 2021. Here’s why that will continue after ‘the greatest weekend in NFL playoff history.’

January 24, 2022, 10:44 PM UTC

Americans love pro football, and not so coincidentally, they love that they can (legally) gamble on it now.

The market for legalized sports betting in the U.S. exploded in 2021, doubling in size as Americans wagered more than $52.7 billion throughout the year, according to a report from Morning Consult, a data intelligence company. 

And after a weekend in which a season high of more than 34.5 million total viewers tuned into Sunday night’s instant-classic divisional playoff game between the Chiefs and Bills, the market for sports betting is set to keep growing.

The increase of sports betting in 2021 is due in large part to the launch of legal wagering in 11 new states and more than $1 billion invested in marketing and advertising by some of the country’s largest sportsbooks, like FanDuel and DraftKings.

Legal sports betting is now available in 30 states and Washington, D.C., with more states expected to join in this year. Bettors in Ohio are expected to be able to begin placing bets this year. And efforts to expand legalized sports betting in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Massachusetts are “heating up,” according to The Washington Post.

In New York, legal sports betting officially launched on Jan. 8., and the state immediately received millions of dollars in wagered bets. According to the New York State Gaming Commission, the four available operating books in the state took in more than $600 million in  bets in their first two weeks of operation. 

The industry has boomed since the federal ban on sports wagering was rescinded in 2018, especially among younger fans.

Of U.S. adults ages 21 and older, 18% reported betting on sports at least once a month in a December survey conducted by Morning Consult. When the same survey was conducted in January, 2021, only 10% of that age range reported placing a bet at least once a month—an astounding 80% increase over the course of a year.

Experts say increases in sports betting across the country are due in part to the huge increase in digital marketing from the country’s biggest sportsbooks. 

“Given the proliferation of online sports betting and operators’ focus on digital marketing, it should come as no surprise that younger Americans are the most inclined to place wagers on games,” wrote Morning Consult’s Alex Silverman.

Overall, the number of Americans who bet on sports grew by 30% over the 18-month period ending in September 2021–an overall increase of 15.3 million bettors, according to a September study released by the National Council on Problem Gambling. 

That number is expected to continue to rise as the NFL playoffs continue to produce high viewership across the board.

Historically, there is a high correlation between a sporting event’s viewership and the amount of sports bets placed on that event. A 2019 study from market research firm Prodege, found that being able to gamble on sports drove overall interest and increased viewership across all major sports. 

This past weekend—which featured what many are calling “the greatest NFL playoff weekend ever”—represented an impressive surge in viewership and a round of playoffs that again showed why America can’t get enough of watching football. While it’s unclear so far how many bets were placed on this weekend’s games, history suggests that number is high.

And if the viewership of this past weekend of NFL action was any indication, then sports betting is likely to continue to grow in the coming weeks as the NFL season comes to a head, with Super Bowl LVI on February 13.

In other words, the Super Bowl Party in 2022 is probably going to include a whole lot of gambling on the side. Welcome to the new world of watching—and betting on—sports.

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