Predicting The Sports Betting Year Ahead: LSR Staff Looks To 2021

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2021 sports betting predictions

Ah, the end of another year arrives and brings with it the holiday gift you’re sure to return to the store as quickly as possible – Legal Sports Report‘s 2021 sports betting predictions.

The LSR staff weighed in on five randomly selected questions about the next 12 months of the industry.

Bookmark this page and check back next December to see just how wrong we were!

1) What is the biggest unanswered question about US sports betting at the start of 2021?

Adam Candee: Without question, it’s the future of the Wire Act. Under the Trump administration, the guiding hand of a certain deep-pocketed casino owner prodded the US Department of Justice to threaten wider and stronger enforcement that could have kneecapped the sports betting market. That particular influence vanishes under President-elect Joe Biden.

Will a Biden DOJ remove the uncertainty created by that saber-rattling? Could it go even farther, pushing to end the outdated restriction on interstate wagering? Stay tuned.

Brad Allen: Will the advent of Joe Biden also mean the end of the Wire Act? Biden is on record saying he doesn’t support the Justice Department’s decision last year to reinterpret the Wire Act. Does that also mean he might consider striking the Wire Act off entirely?

You’d think the AGA would be pushing hard for this in Washington, and it could pave the way for a nationwide sports betting exchange. Sharps everywhere rejoice!

Dustin Gouker: When will any of the biggest four states legalize sports betting? Lots of states have obviously legalized in recent years, but of the four largest in terms of population, only New York has any type of betting with a small retail sportsbook presence.

Rumors about New York legalization have started swirling like they do every year, but will they actually accomplish anything this time? California may look at a serious effort … in 2022. Texas is the subject of speculation as well but its legislature only meets for a short time every two years, this time in 2021. And Florida seems a ways off. In any event, four states that combine for more than 100 million in population don’t have online sports betting. Will that start to change in 2021?

Matthew Waters: How did New York go another year without mobile betting? It’s not for lack of effort. Sen. Joe Addabbo and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow have tried for years to legalize mobile betting but continue to hit a roadblock in one or more places every year. New York is losing millions in tax revenue as bettors continue to travel to New Jersey.

2) At the end of 2021, _______ will have third-place market share in the United States.

AC: Barstool Sportsbook, although it might not hold beyond 2021. How quickly can Penn Interactive scale up across the country now that it saw early success in Pennsylvania? Barstool continues to pose an existential threat to itself and to the industry with regulators and legislators by its cavalier approach to marketing, but the pliability of its audience is unmatched.

BetMGM will incinerate piles of advertising cash trying to claim this spot and also can leverage its league partnerships for increased exposure. I need to see BetMGM succeed before handing over any crowns to the self-proclaimed “King of Sportsbooks” though.

BA: BetMGM. They are probably already there despite some of the product hiccups they had initially. In some ways, they are FanDuel-lite, in that they combine the knowledge and technology of a European gaming company with some US expertise and footprint. Plus, they are spending a bajillion dollars.

DG: BetMGM. They are spending so much on marketing that it feels like they can will this to happen. I do think Barstool will have a chance at it based on its performance in Pennsylvania, but I need to see them do this in more than one state (and launch in any other state) before I go out on that limb.

MW: BetMGM will likely be in third at the end of 2021. That’s assuming Barstool Sportsbook continues its leisurely paced rollout into other legal states. BetMGM has the cash and the mindset to spend whatever it takes to stay relevant in the top operators in the United States.

3) How many states will legalize sports betting in 2021 and which is the most likely?

AC: Five seems the likeliest number. Let me set myself up for cold-taking by saying Ohio, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are on track to legalize next year. The push in Missouri has legs as well. And you can always count on one state you never saw coming (Georgia perhaps?) Let’s double-down on my bad calls by making Ohio the favorite.

BA: We seem to be doing around five or six new states a year, but are starting to get to a point where the states that haven’t legalized yet have a reason for not doing so. Therefore my proprietary legalization algorithm says 4.2 new states will come online in 2021. Massachusetts and Connecticut look like slam dunks to help create a New England betting hub. 

DG: I set the line at 3.5, and I would probably bet the over just because I am consistently surprised at how quickly sports betting has expanded. Easy wins, though, get harder to find as the number of states with no sports betting dwindles.

But there are enough states that have already looked at the issue or are looking for new forms of revenue that we could easily get a handful of states legalizing. I’ll go with Massachusetts as the most likely; DraftKings and MGM should will it to the finish line, I have to think.

MW: Out of the 22 states remaining with no sports betting, it’s reasonable to assume six, or just over 25%, will legalize this year. The most likely at this point has to be Massachusetts, which is seeing a lot of pressure to legalize with Rhode Island and New Hampshire legal on either side of Boston.

Nebraska could be a dark horse to legalize since casinos were just legalized this past election.

4) What will be the biggest monthly handle for any US state in 2021? What state will do it?

AC: As a native New Yorker, it’s cute to see us let New Jersey be the best at something. As someone who covers the industry, it’s baffling to see my home state continue to let its money flow across the Hudson.

The Garden State will continue to benefit from New York’s stubbornness by posting a $1.3 billion month in January. Next month will hold four weeks of NFL games and early Super Bowl wagers, plus the College Football Playoff, NBA, NHL, and college basketball. The path to New Jersey and Pennsylvania routinely taking more than $2 billion per month in wagers during the 2021 football season charts easily.

BA: Let’s take a swing and say Pennsylvania takes over the top spot, hitting $1.1 billion. It’s about 30% behind NJ at present but obviously a much younger market, with a 40% larger population.

In fact, the difference between the two is probably the New Yorkers crossing the border to place their bets in NJ. And maybe — just maybe — 2021 is the year New York wises up and starts allowing those bets to happen in-state. 

DG: I think New Jersey will keep the title of most sports betting handle in any month. I think we’ll get to $1.2 billion in one of the football months in 2021. There is a chance we see Illinois take the mantle with its quick growth and larger population, however.

MW: New Jersey will take the biggest monthly handle for any state next year at $1.1 billion in the fall – as long as New York doesn’t implement mobile sports betting first. There’s no other state that has an outside influence like New York has on New Jersey. The Garden State is primed to stay at the top US sports betting market as long as Gov. Andrew Cuomo leaves mobile betting on the shelf for New Yorkers.

5) What’s your most outrageous prediction for US sports betting in 2021?

AC: ESPN begins its move into sports betting as an operator. You wanted outrageous, right?

The House of Mouse is the 800-pound gorilla of the industry and it cannot maximize sports betting profits with its current approach. And ESPN is strapped for cash, laying off hundreds of employees last year as it gears up for new TV rights bidding.

Disney moves cautiously and tested the waters with its current approach. Next year is too soon to abandon the deals it just signed with William Hill and Caesars, but the groundwork will begin for the real plunge.

(My mildly outrageous bonus prediction is Nevada falls out of the top three states in handle behind New Jersey, Illinois, and Pennsylvania as US travel lags until the COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed.)

BA: We see a major financial institution get into sports betting somehow. There’s a clear crossover between the two sectors. Look at the army of Robinhood day-traders that sprung up when there were no sports.

Interactive Brokers has dabbled with a free-to-play sports trading product in the past and Nasdaq provides some technology to sports betting exchanges around the world, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a financial firm get fully involved with sports betting. 

DG: There’s a large sports betting scandal involving something in the US that captures mainstream attention. That may seem overly broad but we’ve had almost three years that have been scandal-free.

I won’t go further on a limb by saying what kind of scandal we’ll have — only that as fast as sports betting has grown in the US, it’s hard to believe such a moment hasn’t already hit the industry.

MW: Four states will surpass $5 billion in handle during 2021. New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Illinois all have either the population or support from other jurisdictions to help get them there.

New Jersey is on pace to top that mark already this year while Nevada won’t lag far behind. Pennsylvania is still a growing market, especially after the coronavirus pandemic impacted its ramp-up period, and Illinois is already showing promising growth in its first few months.