If the month of March was a straw-poll on sports betting, the people of Illinois voted almost unanimously in favor.
Legalized and launched in March 2000, Illinois’ sports-betting industry showed modest returns initially. But since the big-time industry players – specifically DraftKings (DK) and FanDuel (FD) – entered the game in the Prairie State, the trajectory has been on an upward climb.
DK and FD started operating in Illinois in August 2020. Immediately, the total betting handle increased from $52.5 million in July to over $140 million in August. September doubled again to $305 million. Every month from October to January 2021 brought further increases.
There was a dip from $581 million in January to $509 million in February (explained by the end of the NFL season). But March halted the downward momentum with an exclamation point. Illinois brought in a state-record $633.6 million in sports bets in March, nearly 10% more than January.
Will the rises be sustained? Don’t count on it. Illinois’ monthly sports-betting handle will look more like BitCoin’s stock price than a steady escalation over the course of the year.
Why? The sports calendar.
January contains 90% of the NFL playoffs, and the NBA and NHL seasons are in full swing. February has the Super Bowl of sports betting, which happens to be the actual Super Bowl. March is home to March Madness, another betting behemoth.
In late spring and early summer, the sports calendar dries up in the United States. Yes, the Euro will entice the soccer crowd and the Olympics (if they happen) will lead to some action. But there is no meaningful football; the NBA and NHL seasons are winding down or over; and (betting) interest in Major League Baseball tends to peak on Opening Day and then again in October come playoff time.
The betting markets around summer sports like golf, NASCAR, and soccer are likely to grow, but expecting the summer sports to make up for, in particular, no football is asking far too much.
So, while Illinois may currently be “on pace” to take a massive $7 billion estimated sports bets this year, that number is unlikely to hold, at least for the time being. From May to August, the pace is likely to slow.
That said, come September/October when the 2021 NFL, NBA, and NHL seasons start, the pace is going to ramp right back up. It’s entirely possible that the revenues from the final four months of the year make up for ground lost in the summer. By that point, sports betting will have become all the more normalized and the sportsbooks, themselves, will have streamlined their operations even further. Like BitCoin, the longterm outlook is exceptionally positive.