- Nevada set records for Super Bowl handle each year from 2016 to 2018.
- 2018’s matchup between Philadelphia and New England saw Nevada’s sportsbooks take $158,586,934 in action.
- The COVID-19 pandemic and competition from other states will likely supress the 2021 Nevada handle on the Super Bowl.
Were this any other year, the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers could very easily have generated a record handle at Nevada’s sportsbooks. This year it’s highly unlikely to happen. Even with this made to order matchup it’s difficult to come up with a scenario in which Nevada’s Super Bowl action exceeds 2018’s record of $158.5 million.
The ‘X’ factor: Nevada set a record for football betting handle in 2020 despite the competition from other states and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those are the main reasons that Las Vegas bookmakers don’t foresee a record breaking Super Bowl handle in 2021. It’s difficult to dissect the reasons for the huge handle during the 2020 season but given the huge ‘public’ interest in Super Bowl betting it’s logical to conclude that if there aren’t as many visitors to Las Vegas that there’s no reason to expect a record handle.
Here’s how Chris Andrews at the South Point sees it. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Todd Dewey that there’s some difference of opinion in the executive suites:
“I don’t think we’ll be near the record because our parties are restricted to 50 people at a time in the room, and I don’t think as many people are going to come from out of town. Part of it’s COVID, and part of it’s (legal sports betting) being in other jurisdictions.”
“But I’ve got to tell you that (South Point owner) Michael (Gaughan) and (oddsmaker) Jimmy (Vaccaro) both think I’m wrong. They think it’ll be a record or real close.”
MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback noted that they’ve been taking more six figure bets than usual:
“We always take six-figure bets, but this year it’s just been crazy. I don’t know if that can overcome the decrease of people in town because everybody that comes to town bets the Super Bowl.
Westgate sportsbook vice president Jay Kornegay just doesn’t think that they’ll have the traffic necessary to generate a good handle due to the restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic (emphasis added):
“We rely a lot on tourists on our property, but we just won’t be able to offer that this year, though we do have six different venues set up for 50 people because that’s our max. But I would expect some of the other jurisdictions that offer remote sign-ups and full mobile wagering are probably going to put up some pretty good numbers.”
The last sentence is pretty prophetic. Nevada’s gaming regulators still insist on keeping their sportsbooks in the analog era. Just last week, they rejected an effort to eliminate the in-person wagering requirement. It’s evident that the betting public wants to use mobile apps. In fact, the reason Nevada was able to do such good numbers during the football season was because of mobile betting access as the LVRJ’s Dewey notes:
Football betting in Nevada was pandemic-proof in the regular season, as the books took $1.9 billion in wagers and won a record $127.7 million on the sport. The handle was boosted by the increased use of mobile apps, which accounted for 57.1 percent ($2.5 billion) of the state’s 2020 handle ($4.3 billion).
57.1% is nothing compared to the mobile numbers in other big sports betting states–in Colorado and New Jersey, well over 90% of bets are made via mobile apps. There’s a number of reasons for that aside from the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ll likely see more retail betting in a number of states once the pandemic is brought under control.
At the same time, there’s no guarantee that when the pandemic *is* brought under control that everything will just go back to the way it was before. In fact, analysts in a variety of industries strongly suggest that the pandemic has caused changes that are permanent in retail behavior, office work, travel, and countless others. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal said about the permanence of the COVID era ‘stay at home economy’:
Technology has helped make life tolerable in the pandemic. And whenever it becomes normal again to leave the house for work, school and shopping, we won’t be going back to the way it was. What were conveniences before the pandemic now seem necessities that we’re unlikely to give up even after there’s widespread immunity to the coronavirus. And there are a number of reasons this new stay-at-home economy will likely be an important part of the new normal.
The article also quotes Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell:
“We’re not going back to the same economy—we’re recovering, but to a different economy.”
Nevada’s sports betting ecosystem is falling behind a number of other states. In particular, their overemphasis on retail versus mobile wagering has gone from problematic to potentially catastrophic. If consumer behavior has changed for good in so many other industries it’s simply foolish to think that the gaming industry is different.
We’re going to begin to examine the future of Las Vegas sports betting in-depth starting this pre-Super Bowl week. We’ll look at potential challenges Las Vegas faces post pandemic and how they can address them. We’ll also consider some opportunities that the ‘systemic reset’ brought about by the pandemic presents for the Las Vegas gaming industry with an emphasis on sports betting. We’ll also look at the downside risk of doing nothing and hoping that the ‘status quo’ will continue to work.