More Americans will wager on the NFL than ever before as league embraces sports betting

Key Points
  • An estimated 45.2 million Americans plan to wager on the 2021 NFL season in some form, up 36% year over year, according to the American Gaming Association.
  • The NFL has embraced legalized sports betting since the Supreme Court overturned a federal law that forbade states from authorizing legalized betting on college and professional sports in 2018.
  • The influx of sports betting and gambling operator partnerships and advertising is expected to bring in more than $270 million in revenue for the NFL this season.

In this article

NBC's Mike Tirico says this NFL season will be an interesting case study
NBC's Mike Tirico says this NFL season will be an interesting case study

More Americans than ever will wager on NFL games during the 2021 season as states continue to adopt legal sports betting and operators such as Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings, and MGM Resorts make further investments.

An estimated 45.2 million Americans plan to wager on the NFL season in some form, up 36% from last year, according to research from the American Gaming Association. At least $12 billion will be bet on the NFL this season, according to sports betting market tracker PlayUSA.

That uptick comes as legal sports betting continues to spread across the U.S. following the 2018 Supreme Court decision that struck down a federal law that forbade states from authorizing legalized betting on college and professional sports.

Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C., now allow legal sports wagers — eight more states than at the start of last season.

In addition, several states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana and New York, have also approved legislation in some form but have yet to allow betting platforms to launch — potentially teeing up wagering being offered by the time the season concludes with the Super Bowl in February.

An NFL preseason game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on August 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Embracing sports betting

The NFL, once so staunchly against legalized sports betting that it joined other U.S. leagues in suing New Jersey to stop legalization in 2012 with Commissioner Roger Goodell raising integrity concerns, has slowly reversed course since the Supreme Court decision.

While the NFL in April became the last of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues to sign partnerships with sports betting operators, it now has seven: Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings, FanDuel, Fox Bet, MGM, PointsBet and WynnBet. Those partnerships allow those operators to purchase NFL advertising and media inventory, as well as use NFL logos for retail and online sports betting.

The NFL is now allowing sports betting commercials to air during game broadcasts, although it will limit broadcasters to showing six sports betting commercials per game. Stadiums in states with legal sports betting can also have betting lounges; however, only online betting is permitted as no in-person wagers are allowed.

"I think it's great for our fans, and it'll be great for the NFL ultimately and our partners, because what it will do is create more engagement," Goodell said about sports betting in an appearance on CNBC on Thursday. "It will be somewhat like what fantasy football was for us in the '90s and has been over the last several decades, but this will be an even more immersive experience."

That has led to a financial boon for the league. The NFL expects to generate roughly $270 million in revenue from sports betting and gambling deals and is projecting the category to be worth more than $1 billion within the decade, according to The Washington Post.

Teams are benefiting as well. The New Orleans Saints signed a 20-year, $138 million naming rights deal with Caesars to rename the Superdome, while teams from the Arizona Cardinals to the New York Jets have signed deals with companies such as BetMGM and Fubo, respectively, for stadium betting lounges.

"We're already seeing an increase in revenue in legalized sports betting categories, but that's not our main focus," Goodell said on CNBC. "Our main focus here is to be able to create that engagement, build a broader fanbase and be able to reach those fans directly."

In total, the NFL and its teams have signed 52 data-sharing and marketing partnerships since May 2018, according to the AGA.

The increase in revenue for the league and its teams is crucial following the impact of Covid-19 on its business. League revenue decreased from $16 billion to $12 billion last season, driven heavily by restrictions on attendance — roughly 1 million fans attended games in 2020, compared with more than 17 million in 2019.

Penn National Gaming CEO on sports gambling growth
Penn National Gaming CEO on sports gambling growth

Operators see gains as betting spreads

With the NFL now embracing sports betting, operators have used the popularity of the league to draw in new users.

"There's real magic with the NFL," Penn National Gaming CEO Jay Snowden said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday. "There's always a reason to watch."

Penn National, which paid $163 million for a 36% stake in Barstool Sports in January 2020, now has betting operations in nine states compared with zero at the start of the 2020 NFL season, Snowden said. Last month the company announced it would acquire Canadian sports betting company theScore for about $2 billion.

One of the biggest drivers of increased betting around the NFL is spot betting through parlays, or effectively wagering on small outcomes within games, such as who will score the first touchdown or how many yards a running back will rush.

"If you're betting on the Thursday night game, you're not only able to bet if the [Dallas] Cowboys are going to win or if Tampa Bay [Buccaneers] will win, but if Dak Prescott will throw the first touchdown or if Tom Brady will throw over 300 yards," Snowden said. "That makes betting on sports even more fun and exciting."

Those sorts of bets are even more prominent when betting via an app, where you might get a push notification when they become available or when the result is determined.

DraftKings launched same game parlays in August. On the company's 2021 second-quarter earnings call with analysts Aug. 6, CEO and Chairman Jason Robins called the parlays "a big feature that our customers have been asking for [which] also typically has a higher margin."

"The NFL is basically like our holiday season," Robins said on that call. "It's when we acquire the most new players and reactivate large portions of the player base."

DraftKings reported that it had $298 million in revenue in its second quarter, up 320% year over year. The company also increased its 2021 revenue guidance from $1.21 billion to $1.29 billion.

Betting with online sportsbooks is expected to see the largest growth among wagering methods this NFL season, according to the AGA, with more than 19.5 million people placing bets online, up 73% year over year.

In comparison, 10.5 million people are expected to place a bet at a physical casino sportsbook this season, up 58% year over year.

The most popular way to bet remains casually with friends, with 21.7 million expected to do so this season, an increase of 31% year over year.

An estimated 14.6 million people will participate in a paid fantasy contest or another type of pool competition, up 69% from 2021, while 6.7 million are expected to place bets with a bookie, up 13% year over year.

In total, Americans have legally wagered nearly $27 billion on sports in the first seven months of this year, generating more than $350 million in federal, state and local taxes, according to the AGA.