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Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest single betting day of the year.

But being the times we live in, COVID-19 remains the heavy favorite.

The American Gaming Association projects that wagers on today's Super Bowl featuring Kansas City and New England will be down close to 40%, according to a survey released last week.

The majority of that decrease will be from casual bets and in-home Super Bowl parties to local watering holes and the number of expected travelers to Las Vegas for what normally is a busy weekend are tempered.

"COVID-19 has disrupted everything about American work and recreation, and we can expect the patterns of betting on this year's Super Bowl to reflect this reality," David Schwartz, a gambling historian at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, told the Associated Press. "It is likely that, with many Americans working remotely, betting in office pools will be down. Bettors may also not place bets in sportsbooks before and during the game. But with the increased prevalence of legal online betting options, it is likely that the level of bets placed with state-regulated sportsbooks will increase."

Those expectations from the AGA — an increase of around 60 percent — are through the roof for legalized betting online, including Tennessee.

"I really had no idea how many people would play," said Tina Hodges, the CEO of Action247.com, Tennessee's only local in-state legalized betting partner of the state's historic start. "And I think (the Super Bowl) will be more of the same for Tennessee."

There are four original online partners that started November 1 with the Tennessee Education Lottery, with national brands DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM joining the Nashville based Action247.com. And the results have been overwhelming.

Want to bet

Today, Super Bowl Sunday, is always the biggest betting day of the year. According to the American Gaming Association, more than 23 million Americans will bet more than $4.3 billion today. Here are some of the outlandish things that you can bet on:

* Color of CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz' tie

* Color of the Gatorade splashed on the winning coach

* Length of the national anthem, whether it last longer than 120.5 seconds

* Whether there will be a safety

* Which team will call the first timeout

 

Historic start

Online sports betting in Tennessee went live on Nov. 1, and the results from the first month were the single largest debut month of any U.S. state with legalized gambling, according to PlayTenn.com.

Amid the craziness of a sports world that included a Masters tournament in November, a tenuous and fluid college football season, and drastic drops in TV ratings across all sports because of COVID-19, the state of Tennessee handled more than $131 million in sports wagers in its first month of legal betting.

The state of legalized sports betting

Tennessee is one of 19 states — along with the District of Columbia — that have sports betting avenues. Three other states — North Carolina, Virginia and Washington — have legalized sports betting, but are in the procedural stage and awaiting their first bets.

"Our first month of sports wagering in Tennessee comes at a unique time in the world, let alone the sports world," Tennessee Education Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Paul Hargrove said about the $131.4 million of online betting during the November start of the program. "November's figures include adjustments and indicate potential."

Hargove said the first month in an extraordinary year make it difficult to extrapolate how much of the new legalized gambling will grow in the state.

"As this new industry in Tennessee evolves, we will continue to work with licensees and registrants in support of a responsible and competitive sports wagering program," she said.

In that first month, Tennessee bettors won more than $118 million on correct wagers, the state's four online partners netted $13.2 million, and the state received its 20% share — nearly $2.4 million — on the money made by the online operators.

December's numbers added another record to the ledger in Tennessee as the residents of the Volunteer State wagered almost $181 million, with the state collecting another $3.1 million in taxes from the four online operators.

The $319 million wagered was an initial two-month total that has never been seen among the more than 20 states with legalized sports wagering.

 

Bigger days ahead

While no one could have predicted a record-setting start for sports betting in Tennessee, the optimism for was high from the start.

"We believe there is a huge opportunity in Tennessee in terms of betting and the economic reach," FanDuel Chief Marketing Officer Mike Raffensperger said before the Nov. 1 launch. "That's not just in terms of the excitement or even the state's increased revenue when you think about the potential for tourism, too, from out-of-state bettors to come watch games and at venues and restaurants."

Hodges of Action247.com said "Tennesseans love their sports, so we're doing everything we can to get out in community events and give them every chance to (bet) on the sports they love."

That love has been quite the much-needed windfall for the state as the state has collected almost $5.5 million in taxes from the revenue of the four online operators in the first two months of betting.

The taxes collected will be paid quarterly, with the division of the state funds as follows, according to the Tennessee Education Lottery website:

* 80% of the tax collected will be transferred to the state treasurer for deposit into the Lottery for Education Account.

* 15% will go to the state treasurer for deposit into the General Fund to be remitted quarterly to local governments on a per capita basis.

* 5% will go to the state treasurer to be allocated to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to oversee grant programs for problem gambling treatment services.

The first month of Tennessee legal wagering compared favorably to November 2019 in Indiana, that state's first month of online betting, according to the analysis by TNBets.com, a Nashville-based website that covers the betting industry.

Indiana, which has a similar population size to Tennessee, had about $100 million in online bets that month, with three online options. A year after that 2019 online launch in Indiana, the state had $251.4 million in betting in November 2020.

Tennessee also had almost double the betting money handled in November 2020 as did Iowa, which had more than $68 million wagered — and Iowa has had legalized betting for more than a year.

Brett Smalley, editor and founder of sports wagering industry publication Sports Handle, predicts a 2021 peak in Tennessee will come in September when the next football seasons kick off. He said he expects the handle, or the amount of money in wagers accepted, will approach $350 million, and state tax revenue — at 20% of gross gaming revenue — will be about $7 million for the month.

"I think the biggest story of 2021 will be the sheer growth of the market alone during 2021 — the betting handle, operator revenue, and corresponding state tax revenue," Smalley said. "It probably will at least double during its first calendar year in 2021 from where it started in November."

There already are more online partners — William Hill and WynnBet among them — in the application process to join the field of options for interested players, and Smalley believes there could be as many as 10 by the start of the 2021 football season.

Those lofty expectations echo what national analysts have projected since the legislation was enacted in Tennessee in the middle of 2019.

"The Oxford study put the annual handle for Tennessee at $4.5 billion," legalized sports betting expert Daniel Wallach said in reference to the projections commissioned by Oxford Economics, a global consulting firm. "Sports betting is expected to generate more than $50 million in annual tax revenue for the state."

Wallach started Wallach Legal LLC, the nation's first law firm dedicated to the legalization of sport wagering in states across the country. He is a co-founding director of the University of New Hampshire School of Law's Sports Wagering and Integrity Program, the nation's first law school certificate program dedicated to the study of sports wagering and integrity. He also covers sports gambling and legal issues for The Athletic.

And he predicted Tennessee's strong start even before the first bet was made.

"It's such a great sports market," he said. "There's so much passion with college football, the Titans are on a roll, the Grizzlies, there's great interest."

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

 

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