On the eve of the National Football League’s season-opening game last Thursday night, the American Gaming Association (AGA) issued a report estimating that more than $90 billion will be wagered on football games this year.
The figure, which includes both NFL and college football wagering, marks the second consecutive year that the AGA has pegged football betting at the $90 million mark or higher.
Of that massive amount, the AGA estimates that almost all of the bets, or $93 million worth, will be placed through ‘illegal means’ – including both offshore online sportsbooks and illicit backroom “bookies.”
Currently, wagering on any sporting event or athletic contest is prohibited by federal law, under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992. Four states were permitted to “grandfather” in preexisting sports betting laws: Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon.
However, full-fledged legalized sportsbooks are only available in Nevada, while Delaware allows primarily “parlay” style NFL wagers on multiple games. Montana and Oregon do not currently take advantage of their grandfathered provisions.
While Americans all across the country generate $95 million in football bets illegally, Nevada’s sportsbooks are expected to record $2 billion in football tickets.
The AGA’s report is compiled every year by aligning data from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, along with comparisons to legal football betting data obtained from Nevada’s thriving marketplace.
According to Geoff Freeman, who serves as president and CEO of the AGA, the organization’s estimates are intended to spur debate regarding the 1992 federal ban, and specifically, its failures to curb sports betting by ordinary Americans:
“Illegal sports betting is reaching new heights of popularity in America. It’s clear that a federal ban on traditional sports betting outside of Nevada is failing.”
During the run-up to last year’s Super Bowl 50, which crowns the NFL’s champion, bettors placed $3.8 billion in illicit wagers – or 38 times the $100 million in bets lodged by Nevada sportsbooks.
However, some industry experts remain hesitant to fully embrace the scope of the AGA’s data. Bob Scucci, Director of Race and Sports for Boyd Gaming, appeared on Chad Millman’s Behind the Bet$ podcast and questioned the organization’s methodology:
“It’s really hard to gauge those numbers. It’s hard to verify. I mean, we all know that there’s a lot [of illegal betting], so trying to put a hard number on it … if they’re counting every friendly wager, every bar room bet between two guys, I guess they can reach those numbers.”
The AGA report was issued amidst the ongoing national debate over the legalization of sports betting. In 2014 the state of New Jersey passed a law challenging PAPSA and authorizing sports betting within its borders, but legal challenges have caused implementation to be delayed.
That same year saw Adam Silver, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association pen an op-ed for the New York Times calling for PAPSA to be overturned by Congress:
“In light of these domestic and global trends, the laws on sports betting should be changed. Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”