Nine months after New York legalized online and mobile sports betting, the Empire State has quietly established itself as the sports betting capital of America. Bettors in New York have placed 9.39 billion dollars in wagers since the activity was legalized in January — more than in any other U.S. state.
While online betting was always expected to be successful in New York, the record pace the state has set thus far is unprecedented. In the month of May, New Yorkers bet over $1.2 billion in total online wagers, as reported by NY SportsDay.
Numbers were trending downwards in July and August, when football and basketball weren’t available to bet on. However, the NFL — by far the most popular sports league among New York gamblers —picked back up again this month, and has already brought with it a renewed uptick in betting volume in the state.
Brian Mooney, 25, a lifelong New Yorker and recreational bettor, says he’s “absolutely” seen the mobile apps bring about an increase in betting’s popularity.
“It’s being introduced to a whole new crop of people who may have looked the other way or may have looked down on gambling,” says Mooney. “Now maybe their friend shows them a winning ticket or something and they feel more inclined to do it themselves. Where they didn’t have that option before — signing up to an offshore casino is not something everyone was willing to do. So I think it being so available and so direct is definitely bringing more people in.”
Legalization is decreasing a stigma that has long accompanied the pastime. While before many derided habitual sports bettors as “degenerate[s]” — a moniker which many in turn wear as a badge of honor — now that they can partake legally from their iPhones, those same people are now turning around and embracing the hobby.
“Maybe it [was] not the best, it [was] not on the up-and-up, per se, for the rest of society — but now it’s everywhere,” says Mooney.
“When everybody’s picking up their phone at a game to place live bets and stuff, [it’s] tempting. And now it’s so available that it’s not really the basement of society anymore. It’s out and about.”
As in other states, the legalization of mobile wagering in New York was accompanied by concerns regarding gambling addiction and dependence. Mobile apps like FanDuel and Caesars Entertainment are deliberately engineered to be as habit-forming as possible, adding another layer to a hobby that’s already addictive for many people. With settings like “one-click confirmation,” the process can feel disconnected from reality; there’s an ease to using these apps that didn’t exist in the betting world before.
“I used to live in Pennsylvania where [mobile betting] was legal before, and [I] probably had a little bit of a problem,” admits Antonio, 25, a graduate student. “I moved to New York before it was legal, so it was kind of a break from it that got me to chill out since I didn’t want to open any offshore account or bet in person.”
While sports betting’s illicit status in New York ensured he wouldn’t return to old habits, legalization in January may have jeopardized that. He says he now feels the allure of betting again, though so far he has resisted temptation.
However, the concept of caveat emptor may apply here. “Like anything, [mobile sports betting] could be bad if people don’t treat it properly,” says Mooney. “But that’s the same with alcohol or anything else. If you abuse it, it could be a problem.” He says that’s not a reason to keep the practice illegal for the many recreational bettors who don’t abuse the habit.
To mitigate risk, the major betting apps like DraftKings do make available a hotline number which those suffering from gambling addiction can call to seek help.
“Yes, there are things in society we can get addicted to, and we’re gonna market to those people and hope to hook them, but we’re gonna set up money to help them if they get hooked too far,” Mooney points out. “The fact that the state does have a hotline number to call, that, hey, if you are getting too carried away, there is help: that is an important part. Because they don’t offer the same thing when they promote alcohol — they don’t promote AA meetings.”
A Marketing Boom
Government officials have been active supporters of legalization because of the revenue it can bring in. New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. has been one of the leading proponents of mobile sports betting in New York. “This is great,” he told Fortune magazine in a recent interview. “Going back to the first week we started, we did as much in two days as we had in two years before that. And we’re still not even firing on all cylinders.”
When it legalized mobile betting in January, New York State imposed a steep 51 percent tax on all sportsbook revenues. Small wonder, then, that an industry with the potential to rake in so much money for the state is allowed to advertise as aggressively as it does. For comparison: cigarettes are a legal product in New York, and the state generates revenue from the “sin” tax levied on them (typically earmarked for smoking cessation programs). However, tobacco advertising is heavily regulated and limited to discourage use. In other words, the product is legal, but not promoted.
Not so in the case of mobile betting apps. No restrictions at all exist on sportsbooks’ advertising at the federal level, and New York State has none, save for the cursory stipulation that a gambling-addiction hotline be displayed in tiny letters in the ads.
It’s no surprise, then, that since January New York residents have been deluged with ads for FanDuel and DraftKings, both on TV and in browser ads. Betting apps even advertise on sites like Reddit with ads that look deceptively like ‘normal’ posts made by users [see image].
“The marketing is crazy,” says Mooney. “Advertisers ... aren’t scared of it.”
“When a guy’s going for a layup, when a guy’s going for a touchdown, you’ll see Draftkings and FanDuel ads in the stadium itself. So it’s just like reminders, constant reminders ... which can be very dangerous to the wrong people.”
“It’s a Fine Line”
Regardless of the potential downsides, many New Yorkers are enjoying the newfound freedom to bet on their favorite sports.
“I guess what’s fun about it is it makes you care more about games you wouldn’t normally care about,” says Antonio. “I used to bet on soccer a lot, but the possibility of a draw will throw a wrench in things. Football and basketball are easier to bet on for me.”
“Of course,” he continues, “you’re always trying to not lose money, or even better, win some.”
“It’s a fine line to walk for society,” concludes Mooney. “It’s going to be very interesting how it comes out.”