31.4 Million Americans Expected to Bet $7.6 Billion on Super Bowl: NPR



KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Later today, millions will watch the Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl. And like most professional sports games recently, the whole event will be peppered with attractive advertisements for viewers to join in the game.

(EXTRACT FROM A COMMERCIAL)

JAMIE FOXX: You want to make every game interesting? First step – open the BetMGM Sportsbook. Second stage – put skin in the game. And the third stage – showtime.

SNELL: More than 30 million Americans are expected to bet more than $7 billion on gambling today, all thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that completely upended the relationship between gambling and professional sports. Jon Frankel joins us. He is a correspondent for “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” on HBO and he follows this explosion of sports gaming. Welcome.

JON FRANKEL: Thank you very much. And I’m going to bet – under bet – that you’re going to watch the game today.

SNELL: I will be. That’s for sure. So gambling was a huge taboo in professional sports in the United States. It was actually illegal. And the major professional sports leagues used to ask Congress to keep it that way. So how did we get to this moment?

FRANKEL: I think the short answer, as is so often the case, unfortunately – money, money, money. And money talks. And I think the leagues resisted, and whether it was the NFL and Major League Baseball that was ahead of that for so many years – they didn’t want to have teams in a place like Las Vegas, Nevada, because didn’t want to be guilty by association. And then all of a sudden they saw the potential for money to grow – into the billions, that’s what we’re talking about.

SNELL: For someone who may not be familiar with this, can you describe what a spectator might see when watching a game? So – and, like, how would the game fit into what they’re seeing?

FRANKEL: It was when I was a kid, you could have a sheet that you filled out, or there was a line on the game, right? A team has been favoured. One team was an underdog. You could take the spread and say, OK, that’s your bet. I think they will win. They will lose by a certain number of points. Okay that’s good. You couldn’t do anything else. Now what has changed is that especially with these mobile devices in your hand – is that they give you the ability to bet on any number – hundreds and thousands of things. So, for example, you can bet who will sing the national anthem. OK, let’s say the Rams get the ball first. Now, is their first game going to be a pass, or is it going to be a run? There are only thousands of opportunities. And people sitting at home – they can sit there and say, OK, I’m going to take this bet for this amount of money, and they can do it repeatedly throughout the game.

SNELL: So it’s almost like these people who are, you know, engaged in this game are playing their own separate side game that’s not kind of tied to what’s happening on the pitch.

FRANKEL: You hit on a word there that’s really important, which is that they’re engaged. And that’s really the crux of it all. If someone bets on a match, they are now more likely to want to watch that match. So the minute it was legalized in the states, the amount of the jack, the amount of money that was bet on the sport skyrocketed. We asked Nielsen to look at television ratings. And in states where the sport had been legalized, television ratings increased year over year compared to states that had not yet legalized gambling.

SNELL: Does that mean the game is now part of the business model of the leagues and the teams themselves?

FRANKEL: Absolutely. When they look for other ways to increase their income – you know, they make money in different ways. They make money from their deals with these betting sites – FanDuel, DraftKings, etc. But what they do is if there’s more people betting on sports and more people who are engaged, so more people are watching, the ratings go up so they can then go to their TV partners who are paying license fees to televise it, and they can say, hey, we’re going to charge you more to televise our games because we’re delivering more viewers. And the same goes for advertisers. So there is a direct source and an indirect source of funds and revenue now coming into the respective leagues.

SNELL: Some people could be involved in all of these bets with just a few dollars here or there. But in your reporting, you talk to people whose lives have been completely ruined by gambling. And you also mentioned that it’s mostly men in their 20s and 30s who place those bets. So how does this affect them?

FRANKEL: It’s the same as asking, what is the impact of a fast food restaurant on everyone who passes by or enters it? And it’s different, right? There are people who can go to fast food but can say, I’m fine with a burger and fries, and I’m not going back here tomorrow or the week after. There are going to be other people – and we know that – who live off of it, aren’t there? And so they need this fix. Are we saying that everyone is going to get addicted to gambling? No, but I think there’s huge potential now for this opportunity for people who don’t quite understand the definitive nature of this, which is that I’m making a bet, and there’s real consequences to this. And maybe this generation that grew up playing these electronic games and these sports games, you know, whether it’s Madden or these other things – right? – there are no consequences, right? And through that, there’s no consequence to your knowledge, because the way the apps are set up, they’re trying to limit the amount of money you actually see flowing, right? You do not make the payment directly out of your pocket on site. They want to put in place the fewest limits or limitations or interruptions, if you will, to make you aware of it.

SNELL: Are leagues and casinos taking steps to protect fans who gamble irresponsibly or who may have an addiction?

FRANKEL: Betting sites have these cooling off periods. I don’t know for sure if they arrest people who see losses running into the – thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. I think if you watch a game today, you’re inundated with NFL commercials. So quite the opposite. Don’t try – yes, they have the PSA ad that says, hey, bet wisely. Be careful. Here is a 1-800 number. All that. But they are almost footnotes in general. You will see different ads from different sites one after another.

SNELL: So it’s basically built into the structure of the game.

FRANKEL: Absolutely. You know, you could say – if you were really cynical, you could say, well, they don’t even trust their own product anymore. They don’t trust the entertainment value of the game itself to attract viewers. Now they have to rely on the game because that’s really where their audience is.

SNELL: Jon Frankel is a correspondent for HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.” Thank you very much for joining us.

FRANKEL: With pleasure. Thank you.

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