Hi Quartz members!
In the US, if you’ve turned on a television or driven down a highway in the past five years, you’ve definitely seen a sports-betting ad. They’re everywhere. Kevin Hart shills for DraftKings, Jamie Foxx boosts BetMGM, and JB Smoove dresses like Julius Caesar in Caesars ads. For what it’s worth, I’ve placed my fair share of bets with each of these sportsbooks.
Sports betting’s grip on the American consumer is unavoidable ahead of the Super Bowl this Sunday (Feb. 12), the biggest annual sporting event in the US. Approximately 50 million Americans will place a bet on the game this year, a 60% increase from 2022 according to the American Gaming Association (AGA), an industry trade group. The AGA expects the sum of these wagers to double from last year, topping $16 billion. (Americans placed approximately $100 billion in legal sports bets last year, in addition to $60 billion on illegal books.)
It’s something of a human compulsion to prognosticate about the outcomes of sporting events. The Philadelphia Eagles will win the Super Bowl against an injured Patrick Mahomes. Aaron Judge will break his own home run record in 2024. Arsenal will win the Premier League this year for the first time in almost two decades. If these opinions excite something within you, and if you’d risk a few bucks to prove me wrong, then you’re a prime target of the sports betting industry, which has ballooned into a massive enterprise since a federal ban on most sports betting was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2018.
Since then, 36 states and Washington DC have legalized sports betting in some form. Additionally, the newly professionalized sports-betting field has made it exceptionally easy to get hooked. The smartphone is the industry’s delivery mechanism; a few minutes to link your Social Security number and checking account is all it takes to start placing bets. You can place wagers on big events like the Super Bowl, or on obscure, second-tier football games between eastern European nations. The bet’s the thing.
The gratification is instantaneous, as one New York Times writer—a rookie gambler—found. She staked $700 on Real Madrid beating Liverpool, watched the game with bated breath, and won. “Caesars paid $2,520 into my account within minutes of the match’s end, making the lazy afternoon feel mightily productive and prompting me to place a rash of new bets: more than a dozen over the next two days.”
Move aside, social media: Sports-betting apps are the new second screen of sports.
BY THE DIGITS
$190 billion: The value of all legal wagers in the US since 2018
4 billion: Sportsbook revenue since 2018
$2.3 billion: Taxes paid on sports betting since 2018
7.6%: Average fee across states that sportsbooks retain, as a proportion of the amount wagered. The fee varies across the US, from a high of 15.1% in Delaware to a low of 2.9% in Kansas.
36: The number of states that, along with Washington DC, have legalized some form of sports betting
FROM FANTASY TO REALITY
Before 2018, when sports betting was still prohibited in the US, fantasy sports had taken deep hold. The origins of fantasy sports could date back to the 1980 Major League Baseball season and a by-the-hand league orchestrated by a journalist named Daniel Okrent—or perhaps even earlier, to a fantasy golf game from the 1950s.
But fantasy leagues became increasingly widespread in the 1990s and 2000s, exploding with popularity in the 2010s. So-called daily fantasy sports, or DFS, popularized by companies like DraftKings and FanDuel, bridged the gap between the annual leagues between friends and formalized sports betting. In both season-long and daily formats, team managers draft players for their teams who they think will rack up the most fantasy points through their stats. In American football, for example, a receiving touchdown might earn six fantasy points, while a fumble might cost two.
Fantasy leagues were a gateway drug. By the time sports betting was legalized, many Americans were well-primed to watch sports with something on their minds beyond the pure result of the game.
ONE 🎲 THING
If betting abounds, can match-fixing be far behind? When there’s money to be made off the result of a game, the temptation to rig it is strong, and fixing has shown up all over the world in sports like cricket, football, horse
-racing, and tennis. Sport sradar, a Switzerland-based company that analyzes sports data, also employs a cell of corruption investigators who track half a million games a year. In 2021, Sport sradar reported at least 903 suspicious matches across 10 different sports in 76 countries. That year, Sport sradar estimated , fixers earned $177 million (€165 million). North America didn’t figure in the top three continents where Sport sradar detected these dodgy games. But as legalized betting grows in the US, it could undermine the sanctity of American sports, particularly on the college circuit or in leagues less well-heeled than the NFL.
QUARTZ STORIES TO SPARK CONVERSATION
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- Biden’s plan is not going to lower the price of insulin
- A Pandora Papers ex-banker is Adani’s man in London
- Shipping giants Maersk and MSC are making different bets on the future of trade
5 GREAT STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE
🤖 Bot of a problem. This week marked the launch of an all-out Bot Battle, with Google, Apple, Alibaba, and Baidu duking it out to develop the next-best AI technology. But the path forward will be filled with challenges, writes The Verge, laying out seven issues that AI-powered search engines are likely to face. Aside from costs, regulation, and overcoming biases, chatbots could also pose an existential challenge to the web and its financial underpinnings.
🪑 Need a chair? You’re going to want to sit down for this one. Or at least, that’s a likely go-to sales pitch for furniture sellers these days. As Vice explains, since the pandemic ended the workplace as we know it, there’s been a surge in the second-hand market for swanky office furniture (think, thousand-dollar Herman Millers), and now warehouses are being filled with ergonomic seating. The question is if there are enough weary legs to meet the supply.
🌊 Seachange. Geoengineers have developed a way to remove metric tons of CO2 from the air each year and sink it into the ocean. But the method is controversial. Several projects, from Canada to Singapore, are optimistic about the technological fix, but some oceanographers are worried the draw of profit will overshadow environmental concerns. Nautilus looks at the prospects and potential pitfalls in changing the pH of ocean water.
📺 Roll the credits. Netflix offers the temptation of a “Skip Intro” button, but you may want to think twice before clicking. Many would say the opening credits of today’s TV shows have become an integral part of the viewing experience, absorbing the audience in the mise en scène, while sprinkling in clues as to how the story will unfold. A piece from the BBC looks at the power of title sequences in the Golden Age of the small screen.
💘 Be mine. Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and with it come the usual trappings of courtship: chocolates, roses, and of course, cards. The tradition of exchanging romantic missives dates back to the 18th century. And not unlike today, Valentines of yore also penned notes that ranged from saccharine to saucy. AP presents the history of the V-day card for all lovers, lotharios, and St. Valentine devotees.
Thanks for reading! And don’t hesitate to reach out with comments, questions, or topics you want to know more about.
May you win all your (legal) bets this weekend,
— Scott Nover, technology reporter
Additional contributions by Julia Malleck and Samanth Subramanian