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Just How Big Is Sports Gambling in the United States?

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Sports gambling is something that’s just as old as sports itself. However, if placing bets is something you’ve never really found appealing, then you may be surprised to learn that overall, sports gambling is illegal in most of the country. However, that hasn’t stopped the industry from being a huge moneymaker. While it’s tough to come up with exact figures for such a large, and mostly unreported, industry, we can make a few guesses. So, just how big is sports gambling in the United States? The short answer to that question: Big. Really big.

The Legality of Gambling in America

Before anything else, it’s helpful to understand the legality of gambling in the United States. While different types of gambling, such as lottery and racetrack gambling, are legal or illegal depending on which state you’re in, sports betting is illegal in almost every state. This is thanks to the Professional and Amaetuer Sports Protection Act of 1992, also known as the Bradley Act, which outlawed sports bets in most of the U.S., except for a few states – notably, Nevada. The reasoning, at the time, was that mixing gambling and sports could lead to match fixes and other troubling issues.

Black Market Sports Betting

The illegality of sports betting in the United States has led to one of the biggest illegal markets for gambling in the world. Naturally, it’s difficult to track the numbers on something that operates mostly in the shadows, and estimates have been wildly all over the mark, understandably. A common estimate that’s been floating around places the illegal sports betting industry at anywhere from $80 billion to $380 billion each year. That said, the American Gaming Association recently estimated that Americans would spend $93 billion illegally betting on the national and college football seasons. Further, about one in 10 Americans has been said to participate in March Madness brackets, usually illegally.

The Bets on the Books

So, if America has one of the largest illegal sports betting industries in the world, how do the official bets look in comparison? Perhaps unsurprisingly, legal bets make up just a slight fraction of all total sports bets in America. Remember that $93 billion per season figure from before? In comparison, Americans placed only $2 billion in legal bets during football season. That’s an amazing 98 percent of bets placed during the football season that were illegal.

The Future of Sports Betting in the United States

Obviously, the rules against sports betting aren’t quite working out the way they were meant to. While the leagues were all for the Bradley Act in the 1990s, they’re singing a different tune now. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver penned an op-ed in The New York Times in 2014 advocating for sports gambling reform. Further, state leaders have been making efforts to get Congress to repeal the Bradley Act. While it’s not certain when that might happen, the illegal sports gambling industry has almost certainly gotten too big for it to last for much longer.

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