Super Bowl puts spotlight on sports gambling’s gains in casual bettors making small wagers

AP photo by Charlie Riedel / A person is silhouetted against a Super Bowl LVIII graphic playing on the Sphere on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Kansas City Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday with the 2023 NFL season's title on the line, and an estimated 68 million Americans are planning to bet on the game.
AP photo by Charlie Riedel / A person is silhouetted against a Super Bowl LVIII graphic playing on the Sphere on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Kansas City Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday with the 2023 NFL season's title on the line, and an estimated 68 million Americans are planning to bet on the game.

LAS VEGAS — After years of angst and filibustering, casual bettors strolling around Sin City are basking in the NFL's embrace of sports gambling with the Super Bowl set to make its Las Vegas debut Sunday.

The vibe around the city feels like an all-around win for the fan, the league, the TV networks and the gaming industry.

Each bet placed gives the consumer another reason to watch.

"With just all the commercials, it's an onslaught of promotion," Las Vegas native Jacob Galliher said. "So, yeah, they're definitely trying to get more and more betting involved because, obviously, people have skin in the game. Even if they don't care about the teams, they're more likely to tune in."

Many of the hundreds perched outside the convention center at Mandalay Bay — hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the NFL's brightest stars headed to do interviews with the media outlets lined up in "Radio Row" — were wearing team jerseys from across the league. Some had already placed their bets on Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.

Awaiting those current and former athletes inside Radio Row were mammoth broadcast sets for DraftKings and FanDuel — the latter is the official odds provider for The Associated Press — and NFL-licensed slot machines.

Sports gambling existed long before the U.S. Supreme Court gave states the option to legalize it in 2018. What's new is the rise of the legal, casual bettor, such as Galliher, who planned to wager no more than $100 on Sunday's big game. He is among an estimated 68 million Americans who are planning to bet on the Super Bowl.

As the NFL increasingly works in conjunction with online gambling sites, the model to draw in consumers seems to be getting more aggressive, said Brian Parson, who traveled from Washington, where sports gambling is permitted only at one of the tribal casino sportsbooks in the Pacific Northwest state.

"I see a lot more DraftKings commercials with NFL players and stuff like that," said Parson, who expects to bet $300 on Sunday. "They'll reel you in with the whole, 'Your first bet's on us.' You've still got to bet your own money, but they'll place the bet for you."

Player propositions have become more popular, especially in pregame betting, FanDuel group president Christian Genetski said this past week at a Super Bowl news conference that centered on the future of the league's interactive fan experiences. He added that bettors aren't only putting themselves on the sidelines, predicting a team to win — they're putting themselves in the shoes of their favorite athletes.

"I just do the whole touchdown thing," Parson said. "Like, you know Christian McCaffrey is going to score a touchdown."

Sports gambling is legal in 38 states — as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — but not in California (home of the 49ers) or Missouri (home of the Chiefs).

Alex Romero traveled from California to Las Vegas to place his Super Bowl bets. He said he has placed only player propositions.

Romero is one in an ever-growing community of casual sports gamblers, unafraid of risking a little money on the big game.

"I mean, if you bet big, you win big," he said. "A little extra cash if you hit. If not, then you go back to the drawing board."

It's clear sports betting is becoming the new normal, and it's growing and changing.

Next on the drawing board after pregame wagers could be live betting on teams to win, a trend Genetski said is gaining steam after the game has started.

"A lot of people who are casual sports bettors, it's just entertainment for them," said Steve Buchanan, a content specialist at DraftKings.

Whatever is next, the market appears ready.