Olympics, Sports Wagering Industry Need Each Other Right Now
For the first time, the Olympics are a legal sports betting proposition for a substantial percentage of Americans.
And the American Gaming Association, which represents the U.S. gambling industry, via a survey it commissioned early in July, reports that 20.1 million American adults, about 8% of the adult population, plan to wager on the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Parsing further findings of the survey, the business of Olympic wagering may be considered more “meh” than “oh boy,” but it’s not nothing either.
What Numbers Say
Of the folks who expressed some appetite for betting on the long-delayed Tokyo Games, 47% said they’ll make their wagers with friends.
Of those who will make a bet with a sportsbook, 43% said they’ll bet online (albeit it’s not clear if some of that may wind up with offshore books). And 16% said they’d put down an Olympics bet at a retail sportsbook. A candid 13% ‘fessed up to their intention of putting in a bet with a bookie.
Roughly speaking, if the survey is accurate — and that may be a leap considering how recent political polls and surveys have panned out when the votes were counted — perhaps 10 million people will put a bet down with a legal sportsbook during the Olympics. And the bets are likely to be modest amounts.
Not surprisingly, the sport that is expected to get the most action is basketball with 45% of survey respondents identifying hoops as their preferred Olympic betting game followed by soccer (34%), gymnastics (28%, probably most of it on Simone Biles), followed by track and field, and swimming (both 27%).
Not included in the survey would have been a more telling metric. How much money are bettors likely to wager on Olympic events?
Basketball will get some action in large part because of the familiar names on the U.S. team such as NBA players Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, plus players who have gotten recent TV exposure, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday of the newly-minted champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Why There’s A Need
But by and large, the Olympics don’t figure to move the needle much financially for America’s emerging legal sportsbook industry.
Yet, the Olympics and the sports wagering industry may turn out to be just what each other need at this moment.
When the last Summer Olympics occurred in 2016, which was so long ago it pre-dated the Trump presidency, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic, the Games were in Rio de Janeiro, and the only place you could get down a bet on Michael Phelps was in Nevada.
Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court’s takedown of the federal law that had severely limited sports gambling has led to 22 jurisdictions (21 states and the District of Columbia) launching sports wagering, whether retail, online or both. And several more states are in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, these 2021 Olympics have undergone lots of difficulties. For starters, the Games were postponed a year. Now, they’re going to play out without fans.
On the television front, there was a 10% dip in TV viewership from the 2012 London Summer Games to the 2016 Rio Summer Games (from an average of 30.3 million viewers to an average of 27.5 million), according to The Hollywood Reporter. Network ratings may fall again, although harder to measure is other types of cord-cutting audiences.
In short, the Olympic Games could use a boost. Wagering in the United States, even if tepid, would certainly help.
At the same time, the sports wagering industry usually goes through the doldrums in the heart of the summer. With the 2020-21 NBA finals in the books, the sportsbooks could use something to supplement MLB and PGA golf while waiting on the NFL season.
For a few weeks, the Olympics will give the sportsbooks something novel to offer while waiting for Tom Brady and the NFL to start ringing the cash register.
So, there we have it. The Olympics and gambling. Bedfellows of the moment.
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