The people say 'legalize it'!
Gambling has always been a somewhat contentious issue in the US, and even though it may be permitted on a federal level, it’s still up to each individual state to pass their own laws and regulations on all the various types of gambling.
But things were a bit different when it comes to online sports betting until just a few years ago. Going back to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), all sports betting was effectively banned in America as it was deemed that sports gambling was a national problem and harmful across state borders.
There were numerous reasons behind this ban, including the protection of athletes, the sanctity of the events, and the economic impact nationwide, but as expected there was immediate pushback. New Jersey led the charge to change this federal ruling and ultimately was able to legalize in-person sports betting in 2011.
Then in 2018, this all changed again. Through extensive lobbying and citation of numerous sources discussing the positive tax implications of legalizing sports betting on a federal level, wagering on athletics was permitted to happen online at a federal level, and PASPA was overturned - effectively giving power back to the states to decide how they would manage online betting. Several states jumped at the chance to add a new tax revenue stream, and opened this gambling activity to the public within the year.
This brings us to today, where we will discuss what some of the public perceptions of online sports betting are, how this has changed over the years, how it relates to other ‘morally questionable' activities, and what the future may hold for sports betting.
Before diving into the meat of this article, it's important to note a few things about the various surveys and articles cited at the end.
Fairleigh Dickinson University's Public Mind is a research center that conducts polls, research, and surveys about a wide range of topics, all with the goal of publicizing the data and analysis to shed light on interesting and often controversial topics. We cite a couple of their surveys regarding online betting and gambling in the US, taken between 2010 and 2014.
Our in-house surveys were conducted through PollFish - and conform to all standards of scientific bias and data extrapolation given the size and respondent selection. Please see the details about both our 2020 survey and 2022 survey.
Finally, all other sources used in the writing of this article have come from scientific journals or public government bodies.
Public support for sports betting has exploded in the past decade
Hollywood views of Vegas slot machines and backdoor poker games have always been prevalent in media, and for some reason, no one really bats an eye at the unnatural lighting in casinos and insane sums of money spent building glamorous hotels all over the US. So you wouldn’t necessarily think this glamorization of gambling would stop with online sports betting.
But, according to a survey conducted by Farleigh Dickinson University back in 2010, 67% of people surveyed were opposed to the idea of online gambling and betting being legalized, and only 21% were in favor. It may seem strange to think that there was such a clear majority against the idea of online gambling not too long ago, but when you take into account the age demographics it may make a bit more sense.
Krista Jenkins who published these survey results for FDU makes the link in her interpretation between the ‘Just Say No’ campaign led by Nancy Reagan in the ‘80’s, and current attitudes towards gambling. This was especially significant when taking into account the political split in these survey results, which heavily skewed to republicans maintaining their distrust of legislation that ‘normalizes something that’s been considered bad for you for so long.”
67% of Americans were against the idea of legal online gamling in 2010 - but only twelve years later the numer has dropped to 18% against it
The more current surveys we undertook in 2020 and 2022 did not highlight as significant a split in political identifiers, meaning there is a possibility that the ‘recent’ history of these anti-drug and pro moral campaigns may not be as significant to those who have a bit more availability and access to public information when it comes to larger scale studies, as well as just not growing up during an era that was rife with politically charged movements like this.
Surveys from 2010, 2020, and 2022 show a clear trend in favor of legal online betting
Moving forward through the years, our 2020 survey showed that over 47% of respondents were in favor of the legalization of sports betting, with only 15.6% not in favor. As always there were undecided responses, but this shows a huge shift in public perception in only a couple of years following the overturning of PASPA.
In 2022, our follow-up survey showed the public perception of legalized online sports betting goes even more in favor of online gambling, with over 57% in favor, and just 18% against. This is a massive shift from the 2010 FDU findings, to the tune of a nearly 35% shift of the population turning positive for online gambling!
57% of Americans in 2022 are in favor of the legalization of online sports betting - this is almost a complete swap in pro/against figures from FDU's 2010 poll
Naturally, there is no way to identify the exact reasons for this shift in public perception, but access to online activities as day to day necessities, expansion of public information regarding the effects of gambling on people and the economy, and to an extent the rise in a younger generation who have not grown up with the same ideas of morality regarding gambling all contribute.
Furthermore, a second survey from FDU in 2011 made it clear that New Jersey residents (55%) agreed that “people bet on sports games anyway, so government should allow it and tax it."This is an idea that should certainly be considered in why the public opinion can change in favor of online gambling, and we posed a question to ascertain if tax revenue could influence preference over a morally divisive topic.
In our 2022 survey, we highlighted how Colorado uses a portion of sports betting tax to fund public services and found of the percentage of our respondents who were against legalizing online betting, over 30% shifted their stance if tax revenue would be used for public services, with only 22% firmly staying opposed and the rest on the fence.
30% of respondents changed their view in support of legalized online gambling if tax revenue is used for pulic services
So what does this significant shift in public perception mean when looking at the 'morality' concern of gambling, and do Americans even still think gambling is a problem?
A new 'moral' line?
Seeing the huge shift in favor of online sports betting in the US over the past decade, looking at the idea of what people generally consider as ‘moral’ is important to understand what else has become mainstream, and how online sports betting is viewed alongside other frequently debated topics.
One of the major comparisons that has been made is how people view legalized online gambling versus legalized marijuana use. Our 2022 findings show that about 50% of all respondents view both smoking marijuana and gambling online as morally acceptable (49.9% and 48.2% respectively).
It’s important to note that this isn’t exactly the same as being in favor of legalizing gambling or marijuana use, as it’s clear a legal perception can be influenced by the idea that people will ‘do it anyways’ or from beneficial tax revenue usage. But we did note a 7% rise in the moral acceptability of online gambling, and a 3% rise in marijuana use being morally acceptable since our 2020 survey.
Since 2020, 7% more Americans think gambling is morally acceptale - a rise to nearly 50% in total!
Of course the idea of morality is a fundamentally a personal opinion, though societal norms often dictate and structure morality into laws, but given the swift rise in a previously banned and opposed form of entertainment we needed to have a general idea of the moral perception before discussing online sports betting in the mainstream.
Mainstream sports betting may not be great for American health
A key reason we posed this question to our respondents was to get an idea of where the perception of something like online sports betting sits in the American mentality when viewed publically. With so much advertising on TV for sports betting brands and online gambling companies, we opted to ask if people thought it was ok for betting brands to advertise.
Ads for sports betting on TV have become commonplace, and the majority of Americans have no problem seeing these types of ads
56.9% of our respondents said they were ok with TV advertising, and only 21% were against it. This is a fascinating response especially when we consider how many more Americans choose to gamble online versus smoke cigarettes, which are not legally able to advertise on TV.
Since PASPA was overturned in 2018, 39.3% of Americans have placed a bet online - and online sports betting still isn't even legal in every state
In 2020, the CDC statistics reported that 12.5% of Americans currently smoke cigarettes, a decline from 20.9% in 2005. This decline is in line with the US trend following the ban on cigarette advertising on tv and radio back in 1970, which has shown a steady year on year decrease to where we are now. This directly supports numerous findings regarding the impact of television advertising on consumer preference and can be seen to have had an influence on cigarette use in the US.
So how does this relate to online betting?
When we figured out how many of our respondents actively bet on sports online in 2020 (13.2%*), we needed to ask the same questions in 2022, where we noted a massive rise to 35.6% active bettors in the year. This is to be expected as more and more states have fully legalized sports betting online, but it does show that Americans are wanting to gamble online, and are also happy to be shown ads for online betting. Again relating to how consumer preference is positively impacted by TV ads, even if the number of legal states stayed the same over this time period, we can infer that the increase in advertising for sports betting would have correlated to more online betting.
*calculated based on the number of respondents who confirmed they had placed at least one bet online in the past 12 months
Digging a bit deeper into why people are ok with sports betting ads, but cigarettes have been banned from the screen for over 50 years, the idea of physical health being the most prominent consideration seems likely. Without getting too far into the scientific work regarding personal and public health ramifications from smoking tobacco, there has been a clear consensus for many years that cigarette smoking has a direct link to ill health for users.
This led to the ban on advertising, various increases in taxation over the years, and general removal of cigarettes from public media. But for a long time, as we noted from studies regarding online gambling and the drive for the implementation of PASPA in the early 1990s, gambling has also been linked to negatives ranging from economic impacts and addiction for years. So why is this not seen as a major problem?
The acceptability of gambling and relative dismissal of addiction may be more due to the somewhat blurred lines between how people's health can be impacted. With cigarettes and other drugs, there is a notable physical addiction, whereas gambling addiction tends to be focused more on a mental health problem that impacts the individual, rather than anyone in the area such as when smokers light up.
As fascinating and important as these questions are, we want to dial back in on how the public perception and expansion of online sports betting could lead to new legislation and regulations going forward.
Profit and popularity may dictate the future regulations of sports betting
Building off the idea of advertising sports betting compared to other hotly debated topics, it’s possible that future regulations may want to take into consideration how online gambling impacts individuals. While four years of federally legal online betting is nowhere near long enough to determine any real impact from the overturning of PASPA, when more states permit online betting there will certainly be a clearer idea of the benefits from this tax revenue, and studies into health impacts of habitual bettors.
Similar to how cigarettes have been banned on tv and radio, we may see a similar ban for online betting advertising if there can be clear links between negative health impacts and online betting, but this will likely be up to each state, and also will certainly take decades to form any proper scientific consensus.
That being said, alcohol is still one of the most commonly seen television ads even though there are direct links to negative health, and gambling addiction is still seen as more of an abstract health impact even though as many as 10 million Americans live with gambling addiction as of the end of 2020. It should be expected that this number will grow as access to gambling become more common with online capabilities, but future legislation will hopefully take this into consideration and ensure help is more readily available, and betting site and casinos are held more accountable for their influence on users.
J.B. Pritzker has been the Illinois Governor since 2019 and overseen the largest expansion of gambling in state history - will the popularity of online betting help him secure the seat again in November?
On the whole, the current state of online sports betting in the US is constantly changing. There is clear indication and statistical evidence that the general population is in favor of the legalization of online betting, and overall does not view it as morally reprehensible. Currently, 30 states have live and legal online betting to some extent, with several more anticipated legislation changes to be forthcoming.
Plus, with the gross revenue expected to hit potentially $17.7 billion by 2025 in the US, legislators have additional power to influence public perception if tax revenue can be used to benefit the overall population. This is especially true right now, while the nation is still recovering from the economic impact of the multiyear Covid-19 pandemic, making new revenue sources even more enticing.
Undoubtedly regulation for online sports betting will shift somewhat in the future, whether that will be how advertising is handled, access to betting online, or the use of public funds, but right now popularity is growing quicker than ever, and online betting is becoming more commonplace in households all over the US.
Survey was conducted in February 2020, using Pollfish.
The number of respondents was 500.
100% were Americans between 21-65 years old.
57% of respondents were female.
43% of respondents were male.
The margin of error for a survey of this sample size is 4%.
Survey conducted in March 2022, using Pollfish.
The number of respondents was 701.
100% were Americans between 21-65 years old.
53% of respondents were female.
47% of respondents were male.
The margin of error for a survey of this sample size is 4%.