Football fans certainly got their money’s worth last weekend, when the New England Patriots stormed back from 25 points down in the second half of Super Bowl 51 to stun the Atlanta Falcons and win their fifth title.
And per the American Gaming Association (AGA), the leading industry lobby group for gambling and sportsbook enterprises, bettors all over the country had a blast too.
The AGA publishes annual forecasts ahead of football’s Big Game, estimating the total volume of all sports betting activity on that year’s Super Bowl. This time around, the AGA’s data department tabbed the total at $4.7 billion – up 11 percent over last year.
As the AGA report notes, nearly 97 percent of those wagers will be placed through offshore sportsbooks, underground bookies, person-to-person arrangements, or office and household pools. That puts the overall volume of illicit wagering conducted by Americans on the Super Bowl at $4.5 billion, an astounding figure for a single sporting contest.
The primary reason consumers choose to place their sports bets in this manner is a federal prohibition on sports betting known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. Under the provisions of PAPSA, operating a sports betting enterprise is expressly prohibited throughout the country, while four U.S. states were grandfathered in: Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana.
In a press release announcing the group’s 2017 estimates, the AGA’s president and CEO Geoff Freeman explicitly called for PAPSA to be repealed in light of obvious market demand:
“As we mark the 25th anniversary of a failed law, it’s time for Washington to get out of the way and lift the federal prohibition that pushes sports fans to a rapidly growing illegal betting market.
A regulated marketplace would generate tax revenue and jobs, protect consumers and leverage cutting-edge technology to strengthen the integrity of the games we all love.”
The AGA estimate also cited a 2016 report issued by researchers in the U.K. – titled “The Key to Sports Integrity in the United States: Legalized, Regulated Sports Betting” – which identified the PAPSA restriction as directly responsible for the volume of illegal gambling in the country:
“Rather than setting the standard, the United States is on par with Russia and China, having forced a groundswell of black-market gambling by prohibiting the popular pastime of sports betting.”
The AGA estimate notes that American punters wagered more than $154 billion over the course of 2016 on all sports, with the vast majority of that financial activity remaining untaxed, as it was directed through online offshore bookmakers rather than legal sportsbooks.
In terms of legal sports betting, which is largely relegated to the casino sportsbooks found throughout Nevada, the state’s Gaming Control Board revealed that Super Bowl 51 set a new record with $138.48 million in total wagers. Of that amount, Nevada bookmakers managed to turn a $10.93 million profit.
This year’s legal betting volume eclipsed the previous record of $132.54 million, set last year during Super Bowl 50 when the Denver Broncos downed the Carolina Panthers.