Even these experts can’t precisely describe the legalized sports betting galaxy By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports January 15, 2020 at 3:55 am No matter how hard I try, I keep underestimating the ever-expanding universe of legalized sports betting in America. I need the ghost of Carl Sagan as my bookmaker just to discuss the “billions and billions” of dollars expected to be in play in the coming years as one jurisdiction after the next opens sports books. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of the 2018 repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) – that’s less than two years ago – a nation of sports bettors has come out of out of the shadows in state after state. Although there’s no shortage of potential pitfalls associated with rapid expansion, including a potential spike in compulsive gambling behavior, taken as a whole the results of legalization so far are nothing short of staggering. We’re talking billions and billions of handle and the real games are just beginning in major jurisdictions that are still working out details before going into a regulated business model. Bettors line up at a William Hill US sportsbook in New Jersey in 2018. I have to admit it was heartening to watch real experts in the industry also fail to really grasp just how big legalized sports betting might get in the next few years as it gains great acceptance by governments and sports leagues and expands far beyond the bookmaker’s counter and into cyberspace. As Josh Walker, president and co-founder of Sports Innovation Lab, enthused to his “The Future of Sports Betting” panel audience at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, “If you look at our research across all trends, wagering, e-sports, gambling has been on the top of every executive’s mind because it impacts strategies for everything from advertising to sponsorships” to television and video rights. Just a couple years ago, noted gaming consultant and panelist moderator Jeff Ma wouldn’t have given odds on legalization’s prospects. “People would always ask me when sports betting would become legal, and I would say, ‘five to 10 years,’” Ma quipped. “And I would keep saying, ‘five to 10 years,’ and I said that for about 15 years. And now it’s legal.” And now, the real games begin in the endless fight for customers with even industry experts surprised at the speed at which change has come. Scott Butera, president of Interactive Gaming at MGM Resorts International, is one who remains amazed at “just how different factions have rallied to support sports betting.” From fans to legislators to leagues and individual teams, they’ve managed to create a new era of an old industry long considered a pariah outside Nevada. Butera sees a bright future not just for betting expansion, but for its use as part of a larger marketing and event-driven entertainment model. It makes perfect sense for a company that plays host to a wildly successful new NHL franchise and has been an industry leader in other sports entertainment. For FanDuel CEO Matt King, the learning curve has come from the realization in New Jersey that sports book customers weren’t exactly new to the action. On the contrary. They’d been playing in the shadows with illegal bookies for generations and most didn’t need his company’s educational materials. “Instead of their first bet being a simple straight bet, they’d walk up to the window and say, ‘I want to make a five-leg parlay on this, this, this and this,’” he said. “And we suddenly kind of put our educational materials in the back and hid them away because clearly they weren’t needed.” For Fox Bet Vice President Mike Primeaux and former American Gaming Association official-turned-consultant Sara Slane, not even the sky appears to be the limit. “PASPA repealed in 2018 I think all of us would probably be shocked if we were sitting here at the beginning of 2020 knowing that 21 states had already legalized in some form …” he said. And even some of the most complex jurisdictional challenges, California chief among them, are showing progress. “Having worked in gaming for 10-plus years now and having worked on the legislative front,” Slane added, “I’m absolutely stunned at how quickly legislators have been moving the legislation.” So how big can it get? Will there be a backlash, a hangover to end all hangovers? Ma’s query of the panel turned up estimates ranging from $80 billion in handle to a whopping $500 billion in the not-too-distant future. And that’s in a system currently regulated on a state-by-state basis. And if states ever start combining systems? It might be easier to count the stars in the sky. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.