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Sports Betting Is on the Rise Despite Pandemic

After a long drought of live events during the coronavirus crisis, sports are back in full swing. While social distancing and limited capacity rules may keep a lot of fans from stadiums, many of them still are betting that they can pick some winners. 
"You have a dual effect: cheer on your favorite team or people you bet on, and win money or lose money," said Joseph Oroz, right before he placed some wagers at the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey. 
Despite the pandemic and the temporary closure of casinos, sports betting has skyrocketed. This past January, Americans spent approximately $4 billion on sports wagering according to the American Gaming Association, marking the sixth time in a row the monthly all-time high record has been broken. Legal sports betting took in a record $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020, up 69 percent year-over-year.
"Gambling is an American way," Bally's Corporation chief marketing officer Phil Juliano said. "We're not embarrassed about it. We don't apologize for it." 
Many sports betting companies are banking on this trend to continue, especially with March Madness and the Olympics slated to actually happen in 2021. Twenty states and Washington, DC allow legal sports betting, with many others considering legislation. FanDuel's sports betting is live now in 10 states, reaching about a quarter of the U.S. population.
"Almost every state is looking at sports betting now," FanDuel CEO Matt King told Cheddar. "It's a way to raise tax revenue in a way the constituents actually like."
Meanwhile, the UFC signed a five-year partnership with DraftKings, making it the mixed martial arts promoter's official sportsbook and daily fantasy partner in a deal reported to be worth $350 million per ESPN. The company is working on new kinds of bets and in-house games for its iGaming product, as well as investing in user experience and marketing technology. DraftKings raised its 2021 guidance to the range of $900 million to $1 billion, from the earlier $750 million to $800 million, during its last earnings report in February. 
New Jersey has taken the reigns as the top state for sports betting, taking in $6 billion in wagers last year. While according to state data approximately 80 percent of its wagers are made online, even its casinos got to cash in on the action. The Borgata, which shut down for four months during the pandemic, wrote about 20 to 30 percent more business last year compared to being open all of 2019, according to Borgata director of racing and sports Tom Gable.
"You get an experience here that you obviously wouldn't at home," Gable said. "It's a very social atmosphere. It's a very lively atmosphere to come and watch the game, either with some family and friends and be around other people."
Its sportsbook had to get creative and offer alternate sports, like European soccer leagues including Bundesliga and even Russian table tennis at one point during the pandemic. But when U.S. sports returned everything, bets returned bigger and better than ever. 
"We were writing business that we had never written before in terms of the amounts," Gable said. "What we really saw was the pent-up demand, people getting to wager on sports that they were familiar with. I mean baseball, basketball, and hockey are three of the four main American sports, so people were just coming in with two fists getting ready to bet."
 Bally's Atlantic City is planning to open its first sportsbook in partnership with FanDuel in time for March Madness but is already taking bets with a temporary setup. It also is in the process of acquiring internet fantasy sports platform Monkey Knife Fight, as well as sports betting software company Bet.Works.
 Sports betting is only going to continue to grow as more people adopt playing fantasy sports and the knowledge of how betting works becomes widespread, Bet.Works CEO David Wang pointed out. During the pandemic, the company brought darts, billiards, and even bull riding into its offerings and found interest among its users even for these non-mainstream sports.
"Our competitors aren't necessarily casino companies, but it's going to be the entertainment folks, whether it's a TikTok or Facebook or so forth," Wang said. "I think everyone is competing for consumer share of wallet and time."
The rise in sports betting will also help return jobs to Atlantic City and bring in customers that can help revitalize the economy, said Bally's Juliano.
"It brings a lot of people in who don't just gamble," he explained. "They spend money in retail and food and beverage, and it's a different crowd and a younger crowd. I think that's a very positive situation for Atlantic City, and we really like those possibilities that these sportsbooks have brought to the market." 
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