Sports Betting Legalization: What Its Big Impact Means for Sports
By Jason Martini
It's time to get in the game! As more states legalize sports betting across the country, the sports industry has felt its impact in both positive and negative ways. Mobile sports betting is now legal in 28 states, which is up from 18 in January 2022, and has led to a surge of fans betting on sports. Last year, nearly half of American adults placed at least one sports wager, a third of which placed at least one wager per week. These record-setting numbers will only continue to rise as more states legalize sports betting. While this is great news for fan viewership and engagement, it also brings some negative concerns over the integrity of the game and its impact on athletes.
Increase in Viewership/Engagement
Beginning with the positives, sports betting’s growing popularity means an additional layer of engagement for both sports teams and leagues. Leagues like the NFL are now leaning into the industry by placing the betting lines on TV for viewers to follow in real time. Networks will even showcase sports betting analysts before the game to educate audiences on the best bets to place. This new approach relies on the idea that when people place a bet, they have a financial stake in the game and are more likely to closely follow it.
The results speak for themselves: NFL viewership has increased every year since the legalization of sports betting. In 2022, the NFL pulled in an average of 17.9M viewers on regular season games, which is a 20% increase from 2017. With more states beginning to legalize sports betting, these numbers will continue to rise. Major League Baseball is another league reaping the benefits. According to Casey Brett, MLB’s Vice President of Gaming and New Business Ventures, “sports bettors, compared to the average fan, are 40% more likely to stream, 36% more likely to buy a ticket, and 30% more likely to read an article on MLB.com.” For MLB, the positive trend in sports betting translates into increased revenue in the form of ticket sales, subscriptions, and advertising.
Increased Fan Experience
The sports betting surge is also enhancing the fan experience. To meet demand, stadiums have begun incorporating sportsbooks that are connected to the venue for fans to place bets before, during, or after the game. This concept is new in the sports world and is starting to grow. Before sports betting was legalized, fans would go to a game, buy a beer, and watch from their seat. Now fans are able to visit kiosks in the stadium to place bets mid-game, or they can go sit in the sportsbook and watch their bets with other fans.
Millennial fans have long awaited this enhancement, considering back in 2020 over half of this demographic believed on-site sportsbooks would improve the fan experience. The numbers from the Caesars Sportsbook at Capital One Arena support this concept, as the amount of money waged by bettors climbed to $5.7M in August 2022. Because this development is consistently receiving positive feedback from fans, we’re likely to see more in-stadium sportsbooks pop up in the future.
Integrity of the Game
While sports betting legalization positively impacts the industry, it does come with some drawbacks—such as its impact on the integrity of the game. We’ve seen this come to light recently when a number of NFL players were suspended for their involvement in sports gambling. In this 2023 season, ten players were suspended for sports gambling, seven of which suspended indefinitely because they bet on the NFL. These are the dangers that come with the legalization of sports betting. Leagues are now on the lookout for this as they have had to implement stricter measures to prevent players and personnel from trying to fix games and participate in other forms of corruption.
To combat this issue, the NFL is reexamining how they educate players and personnel on their gambling policy. A new directive the NFL established this year increases the education provided to young players entering the league. NFL rookies are now obligated to watch additional training videos from the league compliance, beginning with a message about the “integrity of the game.” Putting this in place should provide more information and clarification for the players about the dangers of betting on sports and the consequences involved.
Impact on Athletes
With more people participating in sports gambling and player-specific betting, athletes are now facing more unnecessary scrutiny and hate than ever before. Players have started to speak out about their experiences, some even sharing the hateful messages they’ve received from fans. This happened in the NBA last season when former Washington Wizard and now Phoenix Suns guard Bradley Beal was confronted by a disgruntled fan who had just lost a bet. Beal responded by saying that he was just doing his job and that he takes what he does very seriously. Beal then turned and swatted towards the man, knocking off his hat. There was a police investigation, but no charges were filed.
With the increase of people gambling and placing player-specific bets, more of these situations are likely to occur. So far, there have been no regulations or consequences enacted by the NBA or any other leagues when it comes to fans verbally attacking players for their losing bets, but it's something leagues may consider moving forward.
While there’s still a need for greater clarity on how to shape regulations, one thing’s for sure: sports betting is experiencing rapid growth. By 2030, the industry is projected to be worth $182B. As it expands, its effect on the sports industry will continue to grow alongside it. Its popularity is undeniable; sports betting adds a new dimension to how people engage with the game by maximizing fan experience and deepening fan involvement. On the flip side, it also challenges the game’s integrity and can create a toxic dynamic between fans and players. More leagues may tighten regulations in the future to combat these issues, but only time will tell how this new development changes the landscape of the sports industry.