Just two years ago, at the end of 2017, single-game sports betting was only legal in a single state: Nevada.
Today, as 2019 ends, we look at a different landscape, where betting has rapidly expanded and changed in the United States.
Here’s a look back at the top US sports betting stories of the year.
1. The wave of sports betting legalization
We could just cherry-pick a number of states and create a very long list of top stories for 2019.
After all, big states like Illinois and Michigan passed sweeping gaming expansions that will lead to both retail and online betting. Indiana and Tennessee also joined the party, among a variety of other states.
But the story is more the wave of legalization that swept over the US in the past year. Even in the most optimistic scenarios, having 20 states with active betting or on their way to it in 2020 would have been hard to believe when the federal sports betting ban fell in 2018.
Here is the current map; green states have some form of active betting, and yellow states are pending launch.
The pace of legalization will likely slow down out of necessity. After all, with 20 states having legalized some form of sports wagering, that leaves just 30 left, and some of the remaining states will not move as quickly or at all.
And there is plenty of work to do. Big states like California and Florida will consider legislation, and New York has not yet legalized online wagering. That’s a huge chunk of the US population that still doesn’t have legal betting.
But still, 2019 will go down as the year sports betting came to much of the US.
One other footnote: Despite a full-court press from several pro sports leagues, no state has yet enacted a royalty or integrity fee that would transfer money from sportsbooks to the likes of the NBA and Major League Baseball.
2. Big moves for FanDuel, DraftKings
The biggest online gambling deal ever — US or otherwise — came in 2019, as Flutter (parent company of FanDuel and Paddy Power Betfair) and the Stars Group (parent company of PokerStars) announced they would become one company.
While this a deal with huge international implications, it had a lot to do with capitalizing on the emerging US market. FanDuel Sportsbook is the early dominant brand in several states; Stars, via its deal with Fox Sports, has a brand with a lot of potential in Fox Bet.
DraftKings was a late entry, but was another huge piece of news on the business side of the US betting industry.
After years of chatter, DraftKings is finally going public. It will not be via an initial public offering, bu via a special-purpose acquisition company. As part of the public listing, DraftKings is also combining with business-to-business online gaming company SBTech.
The move in theory creates a strong US-focused sports betting and online gambling play. The DraftKings brand and sportsbook app have proven to be the most valuable in the US outside of FanDuel in the past year and a half.
3. Everyone doing sports betting deals
Beyond the two big announcements above, 2019 was also the year of the sports betting deal.
Leagues and sportsbooks. Sportsbook operators and land-based casinos. Sportsbooks and platform providers. Deals struck related to sports betting started happening in 2018, and the pace only quickened in 2019.
Here’s a sampling that is hardly a complete list:
- The NFL did deals with DraftKings (here), Caesars (here) and Sportradar (here).
- Yahoo teamed up with MGM for perhaps the biggest deal between a media company and a sportsbook operator.
- The NBA and MLB did deals with a variety of sportsbook operators that would allow them to use official league data and use league marks.
- Penn National Gaming inked deals with just about everyone under the sun.
- An actual sportsbook is coming to a US sporting venue for the first time in Washington DC.
And more deals like these are sure to come.
4. Billions being wagered legally
The flipside of all the legalization noted above: Money starts rolling in.
Since the repeal of the federal ban, US states (Nevada included) have generated more than $15 billion in handle and more than a billion in revenue. That has resulted in tens of millions in revenue for state governments.
Here’s a full look at sports betting revenue in the US.
Keep in mind that’s with really no market close to maturity (other than Nevada, which is still growing as well). Beyond New Jersey, no state was up and running with online betting for all of 2019.
And, as discussed above, more states are to come. Some day in the not-too-distant future we’ll be talking about $100 billion in annual sports betting handle across the country.
5. The Wire Act and federal (in)action
As state legalization hurtles forward with no end in sight, uncertainty in federal law hangs over the betting industry in the US.
That includes the Wire Act, the federal law that deals with interstate gaming. It’s generally been believed that the law only deals with sports betting, until the Department of Justice mysteriously decided to issue an opinion saying it impacts all forms of online gambling in late 2018.
That led to a federal court case brought by the New Hampshire Lottery. It won the first decision in that case, although it is now on appeal.
No matter what the outcome of that case, however, the Wire Act looms over the developing industry. And while important senators like Chuck Schumer and Mitt Romney promised federal legislation regarding sports betting in 2019, that seems unlikely to result in a new law any time soon.
Coupled with a lack of inaction from the DOJ or other federal authorities to stop illegal online betting, this story will continue to be one to watch in 2020.