By the Numbers: AGA Sees Big Increase in NFL Betting in 2021

By the Numbers: AGA Sees Big Increase in NFL Betting in 2021
By Bill Ordine

There simply is no over-emphasizing America’s voracious appetite for gambling on NFL football. But leave it to the American Gaming Association to quantify the nation’s passion for gambling on pro football with a mind-boggling array of figures.

Rolling out the results of another of its surveys, the AGA — the trade organization that represents virtually every facet of legal gambling in the U.S. — informs that 45.2 million Americans will bet on NFL football this season. That’s an increase of a whopping 36% from 2020.

There are two key reasons for the jump. One, there is more stability in the sports landscape overall compared to 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic had sports, casinos and sportsbooks in a state of uncertainty that mirrored society at-large. And second — and this is the one the AGA wants folks to notice — is the ongoing proliferation of legalized sports gambling throughout the country that makes casual sports betting so much more convenient for sports fans and has also led to raising public exposure to sports wagering through aggressive marketing.

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The AGA survey touched on various areas related to sports betting and paid fantasy contests and in each case, the theme was the same — there will be more of it. Lots more. Online betting (legal and illegal) on the NFL is expected to jump 73%. Fantasy sports and similar participation is projected to be up 69%. People betting at physical sportsbooks, up 58%. Even betting with a bookie, up 13%.

However, among all the figures — many of them projected — was a solid number that accounts for what has already occurred regarding the NFL and sports gambling.

NFL Teams and Sports Betting Deals

So far, the NFL and its teams have cut 52 deals with sports gambling or strongly associated sports gambling businesses in marketing and data sharing partnerships, the AGA reports. That’s about as sanitized a way as one can couch the simple fact that the NFL and its member teams are explicit partners in the sports gambling business. And so finally, we have an admission of the truth. The NFL’s popularity arises from a DNA with a helix featuring complementary strands of a compelling game and gambling.

In early 2019, the Dallas Cowboys agreed to a partnership with WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, becoming the first NFL team to be sponsored by a casino. Others followed suit. In Baltimore, the Ravens have partnerships with an “official” casino (Horseshoe Baltimore, a Caesars Entertainment property) and with an “official” gaming partner, BetMGM.

The Washington Football Team has gone the Ravens one better. The WFT is actually in partnership with FanDuel in FanDuel’s operation of an online sportsbook in Virginia. And next season, the Arizona Cardinals are scheduled to have a sportsbook inside their stadium.

NFL’s History With Gambling

Of course, every sport, especially at the professional level, shares a similar relationship with gambling. But no sports organization owes so much to gambling and, for long and so vehemently, denied that relationship than the NFL.

When then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended future Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Alex Karras for breaking league rules on gambling, he said, “This sport has grown so quickly and gained so much of the approval of the American public that the only way it can be hurt is through gambling."

We’ll cut Rozelle some slack for that laughable irony; he did make the comment 58 years ago. But also, during Rozelle’s tenure, the league grew exponentially, mainly through TV and also mainly because of gambling-driven interest, and his and the league’s holier-than-thou stance on betting never wavered.

In fact, into the 21st century the league waged war on Las Vegas by banning mere Vegas tourism commercials during the Super Bowl. Just six years ago, the NFL blocked what amounted to a fantasy football jamboree with NFL players at a convention center attached to a Vegas casino.

That TV commercial ban was regarding the 2003 Super Bowl, and this is what an NFL spokesman had to say:

“The league office decided that the commercial was not in our best interest. The NFL has a long-standing policy that prohibits the acceptance of any message that makes reference to or mention of sports betting."

Think about that when you’re watching an NFL game on TV or in a stadium this season.



A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.

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