More Americans support sports betting, a post-UMD poll finds

More Americans support sports betting, a post-UMD poll finds


As states across the country legalize sports betting and online sports betting is flooding sports television with celebrity-sponsored advertising, Americans are becoming more accepting of the practice, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found.

Four years after the Supreme Court overturned a law that limited sports betting primarily to Nevada, 66 percent now approve of legalizing wagering on professional sporting events. That’s up from 55 percent who said the same thing in 2017 before the Supreme Court decision and 41 percent in 1993. Support for legalizing collegiate sports betting is weaker: 49 percent agree and 50 percent disagree .

Wagering has been legalized and made available in 30 states and DC. Sports betting has been legalized in another five states but is not yet operational. A 54 percent majority of Americans say the increasing percentage of states that are allowing people to wager on sporting events is “neither good nor bad.” The rest split up whether it’s good or bad, 23 percent each.

Despite growing support, 71 percent of Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the increasing availability of sports betting will lead to more people becoming addicted to gambling. Most Americans (64 percent) don’t know anyone who has had a problem gambling too much or too often, but 21 percent say they have a family member with a gambling problem, and 14 percent say they have a close friend with a gambling problem and 4 percent say they have had a gambling problem themselves.

About a quarter, 24 percent, of Americans say professional athletes should be allowed to place wagers on games in their league when their team isn’t playing. A majority of 76 percent say this should not be allowed. The NFL suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for at least a year after betting on NFL games.

Gambling advertising has become ubiquitous in sports broadcasts. Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they are bothered by these ads, compared to 54 percent for prescription drug ads and 25 percent for beer ads.

The most common way to bet on sports is among friends or via an office pool, with 67 percent of sports bettors having done so in the last five years. About half of bettors say they gamble online through betting or fantasy sports sites and apps (49 percent), while 40 percent gamble in person at a casino. Far less than 12 percent placed bets in stadiums or arenas.

Only 8 percent of US adults say they place sports bets monthly or more frequently, and fewer than 2 in 10 Americans, 17 percent, say they have wagered on a professional sporting event in the past five years. Among sports fans, 20 percent say they have placed a bet. That number is essentially unchanged from the 21 percent who said the same thing in 2017.

The stability of the proportion of Americans betting on sports since 2017 is consistent with other surveys. An SSRS/Luker on Trends survey found that 16 percent of adults 21 and older in January-April 2022 data said they had “ever wagered on sports,” up from 15 to 16 percent in 2018-2018 results has hardly changed in 2021. This February, Marist College found that 36 percent of adults had ever placed a bet on a pro or collegiate sports game or participated in pool, up from 40 percent in 2017.

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Sports betting is common among avid sports fans: 48 percent have placed a bet in the past five years, and 32 percent say they bet once a month or more, according to the post-UMD survey.

The survey found that 62 percent of sports bettors under the age of 50 have betted online, compared to 26 percent of those over 50. Betters under 50 are also far more likely to bet in a stadium or arena (17 percent) than those over 50 (3 percent).

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According to the Post-UMD survey, 7 percent of adults ages 21-25 say they made a bet before they turned 21, similar to 11 percent of all adults who said they took up sports before they turned 21 bet This suggests the increasing availability of online betting has not resulted in an outsized percentage of young adults gambling before their 21st birthday.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said his group’s internal data showed some increase in the number of players since 2018 – but not by much. “That means a lot of people are moving from illegal gambling to legal gambling,” he said. “In the betting community, you pay attention to frequency and spending. We suspect that will increase.”

Some of the country’s most populous states, including California and Florida, have yet to introduce gambling. New York went live this year. Several industry analysts noted that gambling operators and states generated healthy revenues that were in line with forecasts.

Chris Grove, a co-founder of Acies Investments, which focuses on gaming, sports and technology, said legalizing gambling would never turn non-sports fans or people with no interest in gambling into sports bettors.

“The number of people who get into an office pool or bet $5 on a game with a friend isn’t going to move,” he said. “But the US is clearly on track to match or exceed the performance of more mature gaming markets on an adjusted GDP per capita basis.”

The survey was conducted online May 4-17, 2022 among a random national sample of 1,503 adults by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement. The sample was drawn by the SSRS Opinion Panel, an ongoing survey panel recruited by random sampling of US households. The overall results have a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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