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BETTOR'S DELIGHT

Betting on the Olympics is open for the first time to millions of Americans

Watching sports on phone.
Getty/LeoPatrizi
There's even more riding on the Olympic Game this time around.
  • Scott Nover
By Scott Nover

Emerging tech reporter

Published Last updated on

When Kevin Durant and the US men’s basketball team take the court in Tokyo, millions of American fans will be able to bet on their Olympic victory for the first time. Since they’re almost a sure shot to win, bettors might not win much.

Until recently, only Nevada offered legal sports betting in the US. But a 2018 ruling by the US Supreme Court changed the American sports landscape forever by striking down a 1992 federal law effectively banning sports betting in most of the country. The ruling, coming just three months after the Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, means this year’s Games in Japan will be the first in which Americans no longer have to travel to Las Vegas to wager on the Olympics.

Many will now be able to place bets on their smartphones. In all, 21 states and the District of Columbia have fully legalized sports betting. Nine more have legalized it but haven’t started processing bets yet.

An entire industry has popped up to support—and profit off—the new rules. In some states, sports betting can still only take place in person at casinos or stadiums, but more than a dozen states allow online sports betting, meaning anyone over the age of 21 can download an app or visit a website and instantly place bets if they’re located in a state that allows it.

But the gambling experience varies by jurisdiction. Betting websites FanDuel and DraftKings, which serve eight and 13 states respectively, offer diverse options: users can bet on individual matches and medal results for individual competitions ahead of the games. Plus, many of the sportsbooks (those accepting and paying out bets) will offer some form of live sports betting for many sports so fans can take advantage of updating odds while competition unfolds.

In Washington, DC, the online sports betting experience is dominated by one lottery-controlled app, GambetDC, though in-person betting is offered at other locations. As of July 19, four days before the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo, the GambetDC app solely offers over-under bets on how many medals each participating country will receive—and odds for the one with the most overall medals.

This represents a dramatic change in how many in the US will experience the world’s most storied sporting competition, a competition that — even in ancient times — reportedly attracted gambling.

The spirit of the games has long focused on pure athletic excellence, though in recent decades has become more commercial, as well as one of the world’s largest advertising events. Broadcaster NBC Universal sold more than $1.25 billion in ads for the Games in Tokyo.

Now that millions of people can bet on the Games, many more millions of dollars will be wagered. But the profits, of course, will mostly be for those handling the bets.

Besides those atop the Olympic podia, the sure winners are the sportsbooks and the governments taxing the bets. Sports betting companies have made $4.4 billion in the US since 2018, according to the website LegalSportsReport, and states and local governments, which have brought in $615 million in tax revenue in the same period.

Bettor beware.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly mentioned that 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting. The correct figure is 21 states.

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