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State of the Union: US Sports Betting Update – Handle to Soar After NFL Season Begins

The NFL’s 100th season kicked off in Chicago on Thursday night and sportsbooks across Indiana opened their doors just in the nick of time. Ameristar East Chicago, Hollywood Casino and Indiana Grand launched legal sports betting on Sunday and Horseshoe Casino in Hammond joined the party on Wednesday night. French Lick Casino missed the curtain-raiser between the Bears and the Packers at Soldier Field – which resulted in a tight 10-3 victory for Green Bay – but it will open today ahead of the weekend’s action. Online and mobile wagering is not yet possible in Indiana, but those five retail sportsbooks should enjoy a roaring trade during the NFL season.

The good people of Chicago, Illinois, have always had to either visit dodgy offshore sites or fly to Las Vegas to bet on football. Now they can simply cross the state line into Indiana and place wagers in a safe, legal environment without having to pay service fees on transactions and wait days for withdrawals. They do not have to pay for flights to Vegas and hotel rooms on the Strip. The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond offers a free shuttle bus from downtown Chicago or Chinatown. Ameristar East Chicago is just 20 miles south of the third-largest city in the USA.

Ameristar brought Chicago Bears legends Mike Ditka and Devin Hester to the casino to place the first wagers, whipping up excitement among Chicagoans. Meanwhile, operators in Illinois can only watch on with envy. The state has legalised sports betting, both in-person and online, but operators have not yet been able to launch. The earliest they could begin accepting bets is January 1, 2020, and in the meantime Indiana sportsbooks will be able to clean up.

Mobile Wagering Coming Soon

Indiana is also a big enough state in its own right: it has a population of 6.7 million, making it the 17th largest in the US, while it is 19th by GDP. It is a pretty rural state, so online sports betting would be helpful for the industry’s ability to reach its full potential, but apps and online sportsbooks are not quite ready to launch yet. They need to be vetted and tested by operators and licensing authorities before they can go live, and they could be up and running within a month.

Rhode Island did manage to go live with mobile wagering just in time for the start of the new NFL season. It was one of the first states to permit sports betting after PASPA was axed last year, but only retail sportsbooks were legalised. It only achieved small handles each month, while the likes of New Jersey enjoyed soaring revenue figures thanks to the strength of their online performances, so it decided to extend the law. It confirmed the long-awaited soft launch of mobile wagering in the state on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the Bears hosted the Packers. 

Customers had to visit the Twin River Casino in Lincoln to activate their mobile accounts, but they can now place legal sports bets from anywhere within the state. The site is powered by William Hill, which also operates the retail sportsbooks at Lincoln and Tiverton.

Beating the Black Market

Senate president Dominick Ruggerio and Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello introduced the bill to allow the casinos to offer online wagering earlier this year. Gov. Gina Raimondo signed it into law in March and Ruggiero said it would allow the state capture revenue that would have otherwise gone to an illegal market.

“Expanding to mobile gaming would provide a convenient option for those wishing to enjoy this form of entertainment, and open up the economic benefits beyond the walls of Twin River,” Ruggerio said. “I can envision a group of friends from out-of-state spending an evening out in a local establishment where they can both watch the game and place a wager.” Both men were pleased to see it go live in time for the start of the NFL season.

There are now six states that offer both online and in-person sports wagering: Rhode Island, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Iowa, which went live last week. New York, New Mexico, Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi, Indiana and Oregon all offer retail sportsbooks, but they are yet to launch online sports betting. Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Tennessee have all legalised sports betting, but they are yet to launch and they have missed the NFL season

Vying for Supremacy

Right now Nevada and New Jersey are vying to be leading state in America for sports betting. Nevada was unopposed for years until PASPA came crashing down, but New Jersey has quickly caught up. The Garden State’s sports betting handle surged ahead of Nevada’s for the first time in May. Nevada returned to the top of the pile in June, but New Jersey surged back into the lead in July. This seesaw battle took place during the dog days of summer, an extremely quiet period in the US sporting calendar, and it will be fascinating to see who prevails now that the NFL action has resumed.

Pennsylvania could also turn it into a three-horsed race, as it is larger than New Jersey by population and GDP and it also boasts seven major sports teams across Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. It has lagged well behind its neighbour this year, but that is because it only just launched online sports betting. Its handle has soared since the first mobile sportsbooks went live, and it should continue to rise as the sector becomes increasingly competitive.

FanDuel recently well live in the Keystone State and it could soon end up usurping operators like Rush Street Gaming and Greenwood Gaming. The number of online operators in the state continues to swell, and this week Fox launched an app in partnership with Mount Airy Casino. The app gives Pennsylvania customers the ability to bet on sports from home, once your phone verifies their location. “Starting today, Pennsylvania has access to one of the world’s premier regulated sports wagering experiences,” said Robin Chhabra, chief executive at Fox Bet, on Thursday. The Eagles and the Steelers are both in action on Saturday, so the state’s online sports betting sector should blow up.

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