The number of Americans betting on sports has grown 30% in three years, while other online verticals are also on the rise

Legal Gambling Expansion Means 25.5 Million More Americans Are Now Gambling Online

About 25.5 million more Americans bet online last year vs. 2018, according to new data from the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

Results from that study suggest US online bettors were waiting for legal online gambling operators to launch in their states before placing wagers. Because in both studies, NCPG included responses from bettors who deposited with illegal, offshore online gambling operators.

NCPG plans to release the full study in March, to coincide with Problem Gambling Awareness Month. It is the second National Survey on Gambling Attitudes and Gambling Experiences (NGAGE 2.0) from the organization, which is based in the District of Columbia.

NCPG published results from its first NGAGE study in March 2021, but with results from surveys conducted in November 2018.

NCPG Communications Director Cait Huble told Online Poker Report:

“The 2.0 version of the study was conducted in April 2021.”

How online gambling’s evolved since 2018

Since 2018, US online gamblers began witnessing history-in-the-making in two respects:

  • States rapidly legalized online gambling
  • The pandemic resulted in retail casino closures

Online sports betting is the fastest-expanding vertical, by a large margin. At the time of the first NCPG study, only Nevada and New Jersey offered legal online sports betting. Now, 19 states house the options and two more are expected to join them during 2022.

The Garden State was a solo act for offering both legal online casino and sports betting at the time of the first report’s survey collections.

Since that November 2018 poll, four more states joined the full-service online casino and sportsbook ranks:

  • Connecticut
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

Americans are gambling more, overall

The American Gaming Association (AGA), reported on Tuesday that gross gaming revenue for legal gambling – online and retail – surpassed $53 billion during 2021. That beats the previous record of $43.7 billion, set in pre-pandemic 2019.

AGA’s numbers don’t include tribal gaming, however.

These legal gambling increases are occurring despite the now-endemic coronavirus.

When COVID was a pandemic issue, it caused the most severe business and school closures starting in March 2020.

More than a year later, retail casinos fully reopened. However, that didn’t last. Because coronavirus variants again forced land-based operations to add restrictions.

Sports bettors more prone to ‘problematic play’

NGAGE and NGAGE 2.0 show sports bettors are more prone to problematic play.

The research NCPG will release next month shows “a rise in problematic play since 2018; especially among young online sports bettors. This spike in problems related to gambling reflects both the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the effects of the massive expansion of sports betting and online gambling.”

NCPG found:

  • The number of Americans who bet on sports grew by 30%, from 20% to 26% of adults.
  • This represents an increase of 15.3 million bettors in 18 months 
  • Online gambling on sporting events or internet games grew even more with an additional 25.5 million adults more who now gamble this way

Young men at particular risk

Sports bettors are predominantly young men, NCPG found in both studies.

NCPG adds:

“People who bet on sports and pay to play daily fantasy are 2-3 times more likely than other gamblers to report problematic play. Males are still much more likely to be at risk for problems.”

Both NCPG reports show Americans believe sports betting operators should do more to prevent problematic play. (Operators are already required to participate in responsible gambling efforts. It appears as though many Americans are unaware of this and more.)

The NCPG survey shows:

“More than half of respondents believe it is very important or somewhat important that a portion of sports betting revenue should be set aside for problem gambling services and prevention. Almost 2/3 of Americans do not know where to get help for a gambling problem.”

Increased play during the pandemic correlates with problems

One of NCPG’s findings is particularly concerning:

“There was an increase in problematic play between 2018 and 2021: Those who gambled more during the pandemic also showed significantly more problematic play.”

The study to be released in March shows sports gamblers and daily fantasy sports bettors, as well as younger gamblers, were “among two already high-risk groups.”

From November 2018 to April 2021, “risk increased” for those groups.

Younger gamblers, defined as those ranging in age from 18 to 44, were found by the NCPG to be:

  • four times more likely to need to gamble more for the same feeling of excitement
  • 10 times more prone to rely on others to pay debts or bills
  • More than seven times more probable to hide their gambling habits
  • Over three times more likely to feel “restless or irritable” when quitting gambling or cutting it down
- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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