Five years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which had made sports betting illegal in all states but Nevada. Since then, legal sports betting has swept the nation, accompanied by a seemingly smaller boom for online casinos. In celebrating the end of PASPA, the American Gaming Association (AGA)points out that legal sportsbooks have taken $220 billion in bets since 2018. Bonus estimates that the figure for online casinos could be nearly double that.
An exact answer to that question is impossible. State regulators generally disclose operator revenue and “handle” (total wagers) for sports betting, but some only report revenue in the case of online casinos. That said, the relationship between the two figures is more stable for online casinos, so an estimate is possible.
The first post-PASPA online sportsbook launched in New Jersey in 2018. Starting from that month and including estimates for April 2023, legal US online casinos have generated approximately $13.5 billion in gross gaming revenue.
Using that number as a starting point, Bonus estimates the total value of bets Americans have placed with regulated online casinos to be between $350 and $450 billion but probably in the middle or upper half of that range. (The all-time total would be around $375 to $475 billion, adding an estimated $25 billion from New Jersey from November 2013 to July 2018).
In other words, despite being legal in far fewer states, US online casinos have probably produced twice as much gambling activity as sportsbooks.
How PASPA’s Repeal Helped Online Casinos
The decision to strike down a sports betting law might not seem to have much to do with online casinos. However, before PASPA fell, only New Jersey had been willing to take a chance on a multi-license online casino market. Now, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan, and Connecticut have joined it, while legislative efforts are ongoing in several other states.
The reason seems to be that online sports betting had an easier time getting its foot in the door than online casinos and poker did.
For one thing, it’s tough to make sports betting work without an online option. Players enjoy retail and online casino gaming in equal measure and for different reasons. Yet, for sports, there’s a strong preference for mobile betting. It means you can bet at the game, at home, or with friends.
For another, the American public and lawmakers see sports betting as less risky than other forms of gambling. There’s not much evidence to support that belief, but the fact that sports themselves are a contest of skill seems to carry over in people’s minds to betting on those sports. It just feels “less like gambling.”
Every state that has legalized online casinos since 2018 has done so in tandem with sports betting legislation. So, sports betting paves the way, and iGaming follows.
Even in New Jersey, where online casinos were already legal, the arrival of legal sports betting drew new players to online sites. From when the market opened in 2013 until the first sportsbook arrived in 2018, New Jersey online casinos generated only $889 million in revenue. Since then, they have produced $4.3 billion, while other states have added $8.3 billion.
Why Don’t All Regulators Report Online Casino Handle?
West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are the only states providing any insight into total casino wagers. That leaves two important states a mystery: New Jersey and Michigan.
States provide sports betting handle numbers because it’s a more reliable measure of activity than revenue for that vertical. Lopsided betting combined with the uncertainty of sports results can lead operators to post disproportionately big wins in some months and smaller margins or even losses in others.
That’s rarely the case with casino games. Except for the occasional large slots jackpot at a small site, online casinos enjoy a reasonably stable house edge.
The good news is that stability works in our favor and makes it easier to estimate casino wagering from revenue than it would be for sports betting.
Estimating $350 to $450 Billion in Online Casino Wagering Since 2018
The RTP (return-to-player) of most online slots is around 96%, meaning a house edge of 4%. However, the most popular online table games (blackjack and single-zero roulette) have a smaller edge. We can guess that most casinos have an aggregate edge of less than 4%.
Since launch, Connecticut’s two online casinos have taken about $9.8 billion in wagers and paid out $9.5 billion in prizes. The aggregate house edge has been a fairly consistent 3% (2.95% since launch, to be more precise).
However, both Connecticut operators have sports-focused products. Even Mohegan Sun, a casino brand, has used FanDuel to power its product. From analyzing Pennsylvania revenue numbers, we’ve learned that sports bettors enjoy table games more than pure casino users.
West Virginia online casinos have had a margin of 3.4% this fiscal year. That’s probably closer to the average. Pennsylvania’s adjusted margin is under 3%, but its revenue figures subtract promotional deductions, so we don’t know the gross margin.
So, online casinos in other states that focus on more traditional audiences probably have an edge between 3% and 4%.
Applying a 4% edge to $13.5 billion in total revenue implies $337.5 billion in casino handle. Doing the same calculation with a Connecticut-like 3% edge gives $450 billion. Using West Virginia’s 3.4% gives $397 billion.
That’s where our range of $350 to $450 billion comes from and why we believe that the actual total is towards the middle or upper end of that range.