A Look Back at 2023 in US Sports Betting
2023 was, by total amount wagered at least, a record year for U.S. legal sports betting. Total handle is expected to be more than $100 billion for the year when the final figures are counted. Since the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 in 2018, the total U.S. handle has now hit $250 billion.
Sports betting in New York continued to be the market leader, hitting back-to-back, record-breaking months of more than $2 billion in handle approaching the end of the year.
Operator-wise, DraftKings and FanDuel continued to reign supreme as the most popular U.S. sportsbooks. However, the year saw big market entries for ESPN Bet and Fanatics – which could shake things up going into 2024.
On the downside, the year was not without its controversies. Betting scandals hit college baseball and football, as well as the NFL and pro golf, with various high-profile incidents. However, the overall results tell a tale of impressive growth.
New Markets Launched
The sports betting sector saw six new markets open in 2023, with another two legalized for launches in 2024. First, Massachusetts and Ohio sports betting launched in January, followed by the unincorporated U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Kentucky sports betting launched in September, followed shortly by sports betting in Maine.
One launch under-the-radar launch in 2023 was Nebraska sports betting, probably because it made a low-key debut with just one retail sportsbook, despite legalization in 2021. National operators were also excluded from the launch, with only Tribal operators allowed.
One definitely not-unnoticed launch was for Florida sports betting. After several years of legal back and forth that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, this year saw some key legal decisions go the way of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. That gave them the confidence to launch Hard Rock Bet in their home state once again.
Hard Rock Bet basically now has a monopoly market in the Sunshine State for mobile and retail sportsbooks after rolling out across November and December.
Although legal action is still ongoing, the Seminoles feel their 2019 Gaming Compact signed with the state of Florida is now fully ratified.
Existing Markets Expanded
In those U.S. markets that were already open before 2023, there’s also been a lot of movement.
ESPN Bet and Fanatics Sportsbook are two big operations backed by brands that are huge in the sports media and merchandise world, so their expansion was always going to be big news.
Fanatics’ slow and steady approach to its rollout, focusing on long beta testing periods to create a polished product with customer feedback, stands in contrast to the quick turnaround launch of Penn Entertainment’s ESPN Bet.
However, the huge brand awareness behind ESPN led the new ‘book to smash app download records, with more than a million installations in its first week. It also saw Penn’s share price benefit substantially.
Without as much attention, British sportsbooks also expanded across the U.S. in 2023.
In fact, the year saw somewhat of a British invasion in U.S. sports betting. Bet365 and Betfred both opened in several new markets and secured key sponsorship deals – as well as FanDuel owner Flutter moving from London to the New York Stock Exchange.
Bet365, the biggest British bookmaker and also the largest in Europe, recently signed a deal for potential North Carolina sports betting market access via a partnership with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Bet365 first opened for New Jersey sports betting in 2019, but took until 2022 to open in its second market. In 2023, it is now open in seven U.S. states.
Big Ticket Events
The booming year for U.S. sports betting centered around a series of high-profile events, including the debut of full NFL season betting for several large new markets, and the long-awaited F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix.
The launch of Penn Entertainment’s ESPN Bet, backed by the veteran sports broadcaster’s branding, was also a big hit with bettors. It brought in a record-breaking one million downloads in its first week, boosting Penn’s stock price considerably.
The All-American romance between Kansas City Chief’s star Travis Kelce and megastar singer Taylor Swift also bought betting interest from new players, and was much-discussed in the media.
Interestingly, though, one of the surprise big sporting events of the year was a college football game. The NCAA Division 1 game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers in September saw more bets than any NFL Week 1 matchup.
Attention was all on the Buffaloes after they hired legendary former NFL and MLB player-turned-double title-winning NCAA coach Deion Sanders during the off-season.
College ball was also the chosen sport for Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s historic first wager of the Kentucky sports betting market. Beshear opened proceedings in September with a $20 parlay consisting of three over/under futures bets, including wagers on the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville.
In June, upset championship wins for the popular Las Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL’s Stanley Cup and the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Finals were a boon for bettors.
The two champions’ big wins against the odds sent revenues tumbling for operators offering sports betting in Nevada and Colorado, respectively.
In Nevada, sportsbook revenues fell by 60% for the month. Meanwhile, Colorado retail sportsbooks made a $675,000 loss.
Failures and Scandals
Despite all those wins for the ‘books and the bettors, the year was not without its casualties and controversies.
Efforts to legalize sports betting in Minnesota, Missouri, and California (again) all failed at various stages. Several sportsbooks shut down over the year, notably including FOX Bet, Kindred’s Unibet, and (mostly) WynnBET.
Penn’s Barstool Sportsbook and PointsBet U.S. also went offline, but were replaced by ESPN Bet and Fanatics, respectively.
The biggest bad news for the sector in 2023 was most definitely the betting scandals. Especially in college sports, where historically the influential National Collegiate Athletics Association has been anti-sports betting.
An Alabama baseball coach was fired for inside communications with bettors, allegedly including a $100K bet at an Ohio retail sportsbook. Iowa State athletes, including starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers, are facing criminal charges over sports betting activities. A dozen NFL players were suspended for betting violations.
Not to be outdone, golfing legend Phil Mickelson had to show the young’uns how it was done. A 2023 book release made large claims about the three-time Masters-winning golfer’s prodigious betting activities across two decades.
Convicted insider trader and sports gambing Hall of Fame member Billy Walters’ salacious autobiography alleged that Mickelson wagered some $1 billion dollars at offshore sportsbooks during their 10-year friendship, including an attempt to bet on himself playing in the 2012 Ryder Cup.
Moving into 2024
However, none of that put off U.S. sports betting from having a record year as part of a booming 2023 overall for the U.S. gambling sector.