We’re hours from the biggest American sporting event of the year, and many eyes in the gambling world are taking a look at what’s happening online. One of the biggest stories of the year has been the sharp drop in the number of Super Bowl ad spots purchased by dot-coms. The businesses of the Internet seem to have less of an interest (along with less money) in 2001, but the bettors of the Internet appear to be fired up more than ever.
The National Football League’s championship match is widely known as the most wagered-on event of the year. Meanwhile, the number of sports bettors who use the Internet to place wagers is growing by leaps and bounds virtually every day. So, it’s only appropriate to have a look at just how huge this is.
It should first of all be recognized that it’s impossible to quantify the action being taken on the big game, despite the fact the experts are throwing figures every which way. The reason for this is twofold: Of the hundreds of sportsbooks out there on the Web, very few of them are operated by public companies, and most of the privately owned sportsbooks keep these numbers to themselves. Second, it’s impossible to predict just how much money will be wagered by the pending huge rush of last-minute bettors over the weekend.
If the real numbers are ever available, they won’t surface until after the event, once the dust settles.
Nevertheless, a few are taking a stab at it beforehand. Graham Sharpe, a spokesperson for U.K.-based William Hill (www.willhill.com), says his firm anticipates industry-wide Super Bowl turnover of over 5 million pounds sterling.
Sharpe also said that the Super Bowl is the one event that always brings out the American sports bettors. “Around 60 percent of the bets being placed via our website are being placed by people with American addresses,” Sharpe said. “. . . The Super Bowl is one of the most popular non-domestic events of the sporting year.”
Perhaps the best statistics to watch will come out of Nevada, as the past has shown that the increasing popularity of online Toto SGP betting is hurting the business in Vegas. The Nevada State Gaming Board reported last year that Vegas sportsbooks brought in $71 million in total bets for the Super Bowl in 2000 as opposed to the $76 million they brought in the previous year. If that number declines again this year, it would be difficult to argue that online wagering had nothing to do with the shrinkage.
Even more revealing, the Board’s report for fiscal 1999 showed that the sports handle in Nevada had dropped by about $75 million from fiscal ’98. That meant that for the first time since the industry began keeping records in 1969, the sports handle has dropped two consecutive years.
MGM Grand VP of Race and Sports Operations Rich Baccellieri said online sports betting was to blame. “People are now able to open an account with $5,000 in the Caribbean and bet from that all year long,” Baccellieri told International Gaming & Wagering Business magazine. “That hurts our churn. That’s taking away somebody who might come to Las Vegas every week to bet 10 football games at $300 apiece.”
The time has come when it’s safe to say that, for sports wagering, the Internet is clearly becoming the preferred betting. As numbers roll in during the next few weeks, this fact will likely become even more solid.