States Look to Mobile Sports Betting as Revenue Source in Wake of Pandemic

Sports betting has slowly spread across the country since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door to legalization outside Nevada in 2018.

Yet the one aspect of sports betting that is still limited is mobile. Fully mobile sports betting* is only available in six of 22 states that have regulations in place. 

With the pandemic surging and casinos possibly headed toward another shutdown, cash-strapped states are feeling the urgency to change that with the hopes a new revenue source could give state economies a much-needed lift.

The Big Apple Has Big (Sports Betting) Problems

At the forefront is New York, which was facing a $6 billion deficit before the financial devastation caused by the pandemic.

New York has legalized sports betting but only allows it at the four upstate casinos. That means the Empire State is losing business to neighboring New Jersey, the nation’s leader in mobile wagering. 

According to research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, New Yorkers placed approximately $837 million worth of bets in New Jersey in 2019

Another report from the same firm last February stated New York was losing approximately $200 million a year by not legalizing online sports betting. It’s worth remembering 85% of bets placed in New Jersey were online in 2019.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. wants to keep New York mobile betting in the state. It won’t happen this year, however. 

The state hit hardest by the pandemic won’t have mobile betting in 2020 for two reasons: opposition from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the fact the legislative session is over. 

That said, New York Sen. Joseph Addabbo is far from the only one viewing online sports betting as a coronavirus elixir. 

Mobile Sports Betting To The Rescue?

The pandemic has crushed all sectors of the economy – except for one, it appears.

The power of online sports betting, which is expected to be an $8 billion market by 2025, has been visible through the prism of table tennis

Indiana brought in $74 million from online sports betting in March without the NCAA Tournament or an open retail sportsbook. Table tennis reportedly drew 50% of the action at one book. 

In addition, Colorado went live with sports betting in May and raked in $25.6 million in the first month despite casinos being closed and pro sports almost completely shuttered. Table tennis represented more than 25% of the Rocky Mountain State’s entire sports betting handle in its first month offering legal sports betting.

Indiana and Colorado experienced solid results with a thin slate of events to bet on. Those states should be in for an explosion of revenue with the return of pro sports (MLB is scheduled to restart on July 23 and the NBA is slated to follow on July 30).

What about the rest of the country?

Lay Of (The Mobile) Land

Numerous other areas either already have mobile betting in place, or have been forced to turn to it as an option due to COVID-19. 

Washington, D.C. is a prime example. The nation’s capital rolled out a soft launch of its sports betting platform in June after delays with in-person sports betting.

D.C. was scheduled to go live with in-person sports betting last fall, but a lawsuit delayed that plan. Then, the pandemic hit and now the D.C. lottery will not offer in-person sports betting until the Summer of 2021.

Meanwhile, Illinois, which is facing a $2.7 million deficit, launched online sports betting in mid-June after its governor temporarily lifted restrictions.

What’s more, Michigan and Virginia are projected to launch online sports betting this fall, ahead of their original schedules. Michigan’s three casinos in Detroit all reported around 40% revenue drop-offs year-to-date compared to last year.

Tennessee, on the other hand, is a case unto itself. The Volunteer State is on track to become the nation’s first mobile-only sports betting market this September.

New York Has Company

As for California, the nation’s most populous state is in the same boat as New York.

The Golden State is facing a $54 billion deficit and was hoping sports betting was part of the solution. 

However, a bill that would have legalized all forms of sports betting died in the legislature in late June due to tribal casino resistance

Sign Of The Times

Even Las Vegas has been forced to adjust due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Mobile wagering is legal in Sin City, but you have to deposit and withdraw at the sportsbook. 

That is set to change after the Nevada Gaming Commission took steps to implement cashless gaming earlier this month. 

Vegas casinos have staunchly opposed fully mobile sports betting in order to keep customers in their sportsbooks. The about-face came due to the public’s concern over handling cash in the midst of a pandemic. 

The takeaway is this — it has taken a pandemic to open many states’ eyes to what has been obvious for years: mobile sports betting isn’t the future, it’s the present. 

*the ability to place bets anywhere within the state, as opposed to only at sportsbooks.

About the Author

Carl Carchia

Carl Carchia has spent more than 13 years in sports journalism working for NBC, ESPN and CBS among others. He loves the Cowboys, Mets and disappointment, naturally. He likes to golf and play video games. Carl was very excited the day PASPA was struck down and is annoyed Connecticut doesn't have regulation in place yet.