In May 2018, the US Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, opening the door for state-sanctioned legal sports betting.

That was just two years ago, but doesn’t it feel like much longer? It feels as if legalized wagering (outside Nevada) has existed as long as the traditional casino.

There’s no doubt that perceived longevity stems from the country embracing and expanding sports betting with such vigor that it seems as if decades of industry growth has been crammed into a brief window.

Indeed, legalized sports betting in America has grown rapidly over the past two years, particularly online. Without question, it will follow the same trend over the next two years. And the acceptance of online gaming — sports betting, casino and poker — will help states capitalize even more.

Sports betting has had rapid-fire expansion in US

Less than a month after SCOTUS repealed PASPA, Delaware became the first state to accept a legal wager outside Nevada. New Jersey followed soon after and quickly became a power player that now keeps see-sawing back and forth with Nevada for the most lucrative sports betting state.

Its operator-friendliness fueled the fire, and the state’s readiness to allow online gaming resulted in some 84% of $4.6 billion in legal wagers placed over the internet in 2019. Not to be outdone, online casinos and poker have perked up in 2020, as the two verticals have combined for nearly $210 million this year.

Since the PASPA repeal, 18 states and Washington, D.C., have gone live with legalized wagering with 13 of them featuring some variation of online betting. They have combined for more than $20 billion in handle since May 2018, a total that expects to grow exponentially in the near future.

More states appear ready to offer legalized sports betting

Four other states have enacted wagering legislation and await launch. And 16 states have active legislation, a total that seemingly continues to increase with each passing day.

All told, all but 12 states in the country are at least exploring regulated betting.

In late 2019, expansion began out west. Since that time, Oregon and Montana joined Nevada as states with legal sports betting. After Washington passed legislation to do the same, Colorado launched online wagering in May 2020. Then, a big domino fell, as California introduced a bill that, theoretically, would appeal to cardrooms and tribal casinos — though the jury is still out on how successful that compromise will become.

Back east, activity abounded as Virginia and Tennessee targeted summer launches for their respective sports betting industries while Louisiana and Ohio pushed legislation forward.

This all came after Michigan and Illinois introduced retail wagering and as the nation’s capital debuted its mobile platform.

Even before summer officially starts, the nation is abuzz with legalizing wagering, many of which are including the online aspect.

That vertical holds significance, and it is one that states still considering legalization or that already have operational industries need to consider implementing.

Pandemic sheds light on value of online gambling

Without question, the coronavirus pandemic has sent shockwaves around the world. It has hit both the US retail and online gambling industry hard.

Across the US, hundreds of properties were forced to shutter for the better part of two months. Only recently have they begun to reopen. Major sports leagues and organizers elected to suspend and cancel seasons and events, such as the NCAA tournament, the Masters and the Kentucky Derby.

The pandemic caused an experience no one wanted, but one that added more proof to the value of legalized online gambling.

Land-based casinos take a big hit

Consider Michigan and Illinois, two states that unfortunately went live with legalized retail sports betting just before the coronavirus pandemic — and two states that legalized but have yet to launch online platforms.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board announced revenue numbers for the first four months of 2020, and they were not pretty: reflecting a 39.2% drop compared with the same timeframe of 2019. Similarly, the state pocketed $24.2 million in taxes from its three commercial casinos — nearly $16 million less than the first four months of last year.

Land-based casinos that were closed hurt Michigan. And the same went for Illinois, where the state’s Casino Gaming Association estimated that casinos lost $100 million during the shutdown since mid-March.

Certainly, states in similar situations felt the same blow.

Online gambling shoulders the load elsewhere

While online sports betting provided just a drop in the bucket compared with previous months, what with sports being sidelined, other verticals have picked up the slack.

Only three states offer legalized online casinos and four have online poker. Those areas have seen massive spikes in recent weeks.

In April, New Jersey watched as monthly online sports betting revenue dropped nearly 90% year over year. Again, a byproduct of few sports on which to wager.

The state’s online casinos, though, saw their numbers skyrocket. In March, for example, New Jersey operators collected a whopping $64.8 million to set a state record. Online poker also peaked, coming in at $5.1 million in April. Nearby Pennsylvania experienced a similar trend.

Sports betting handle in the Keystone State plummeted 65% from March to April. And while land-based casino revenue dropped 51% from February to March, online operators combined for a state-record $43.1 million in April. Of note, online poker drew $5.3 million to set a US record for single-month revenue — beating New Jersey’s April total.

Of course, these totals will not make up for the massive losses properties have taken in recent months, but obviously they ease the blow.

Experts weigh in on the need for online gambling expansion

For years, stakeholders and some lawmakers have advocated for online expansion. The common argument against this move has long been the fear of cannibalizing land-based casinos; the fear that a mobile product would prevent potential customers from visiting brick-and-mortars.

Really, though, digital platforms will create more footfall.

“If you produce a good online experience, they’re going to be much more associated to your brand … than if not,” Max Meltzer, COO of Kambi, said during a recent teleconference. “I just think there’s more of an educational piece, and I think COVID’s done a bit more of a kick-start to that.”

Yaniv Sherman, head of commercial development for the online gambling company 888 Holdings, told the Associated Press that the coronavirus pandemic “has highlighted the need for revenue diversification. “The future is around online growth, and it’s right now, not in 5 or 10 years. We hope to get additional states on board.”

Matt King, CEO of FanDuel, agreed with that sentiment and even went further with it.

“When legislatures return in earnest, we firmly believe the number of states ready to consider accelerating mobile sports betting and online gaming legislation to drive tax revenue will expand substantially,” King told ESPN. “And we also see the industry recognizing this is a unique moment in time, and working more collaboratively to set aside minor differences and get bills across the finish line. Across the board, it’s a time for pragmatism, and we see that producing a real opportunity for significantly expanding the map.”

More states could consider expanding online

Over the next two years, online expansion will accelerate, as estimated by Chris Krafcik, a managing director with Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. “Both activities provide states, whose economies have been massively disrupted by the outbreak, the opportunity to capture new revenue immediately in the form of upfront license fees, and over time through taxes.”

While sports betting and other forms of online gambling reflect a minute percentage of most states’ budgets, that small portion — as well as other forms of online gambling — is much preferred to nothing.

The perception of online gambling has shifted, assured Meltzer during a recent teleconference. The “real trailblazers” have shown an understanding that moving online will generate more revenue and even attract more foot traffic at land-based casinos.

“I think people should be grasping onto the fact that, either way, however you want to run it, there’s a huge opportunity to generate revenues,” Meltzer said. “If I was having a strong coffee with someone … I’d certainly recommend to consider the revenues, just to consider what it can do in terms of retaining staff and growing an environment to attract more customers into your casino. That’s regardless of size. Regardless of size, there’s a model out there that can work for you. That’s my strong belief.”

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