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Indiana's sports betting obsession: Gamblers wagered $436 million in 4 months
14th January, 00:57CLOSE
It was enough to match the net worth of LeBron James, buy 110 million Popeyes chicken sandwiches or snag the most expensive painting in the world, Leonardo Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi.
A cluster of factors contributed to the $436 million wagered on sports from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, including legalized sportsbooks launching when the NFL, NBA, college football and basketball all were in season, the onset of mobile betting and Hoosiers' hankering for football and parlay bets.
Hoosiers -- and presumably gamblers from neighboring states -- forked out more and more as the months passed. In December, the total spent was $161.8 million, up from $147.3 million in November, $91.7 million in October and $35.2 million in September, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.
Mobile betting, which recorded its first full month in October, made Indiana one of only three states in the country to offer on-the-go sports gambling, along with New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Much of the state's betting, 68%, is taking place on mobile devices.
"You can download an app and bet on a college football game after two beers," said Michael Hicks, a professor of economics at Ball State University. "Who wouldn't do that?"
The amount gambled on sports betting doesn't surprise Hicks. Broken down, if every one of the state's 6.7 million residents made a bet in the past four months, that's about $65 per person.
"Most casino goers are simply treating the casino like a substitute to going to a movie and having a popcorn," said Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State. "A couple going to a casino is not radically different than a regular date night."
Still, it's not likely the everyday Hoosier is the person contributing to the massive spending on sports gambling, he said. When it comes to betting, about 20 percent of people spend 80 percent of the money.
"The big rollers," Hicks said. "They are the ones."
The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for states to legalize sports betting in May 2018, lifting a 25-year-old federal law that banned such wagering outside Nevada.
Almost exactly a year later, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill legalizing sports betting in the state. In September, Indiana became the 13th state to offer sports wagering.
Casinos and sportsbooks generated $41.4 million after costs. Gambling generated about $3.7 million in tax revenue.
"Indiana went from nothing to...this is effectively found money," said Max Bichsel, group vice president of U.S. business for Gambling.com. "The state is making money. The operators are making money. Everyone is making money."
Holcomb's press secretary Rachel Hoffmeyer said the revenue coming in from sports betting goes into the state's general fund. As for whether the amount being spent by Hoosiers was expected, Hoffmeyer said, "We're in full State of the State mode. I haven't spoken to the governor lately about this."
IndyStar reached out to the gaming commission, but did not receive a response.
Whether spending on sports gambling will continue at such a high rate as the months go on is a question mark, Hicks said.
"A lot of people tried it, bet 100 bucks, said 'It was fun, but I'm not doing that anymore,'" he said. "What I suspect is a lot of people want to do it for the novelty of it. It's probably just a big burst of activity and we will see it settle down."
Bichsel called that line of thinking "one of the most preposterous things I've ever heard." Historically, the spending and revenue only rise as time goes on, he said.
More sportsbooks come into the market, more competition means more advertising and marketing, he said, and more consumers get hooked.
"That's insane to think that it's going to go down," Bichsel said. "I only expect it to go up."
If there is a game being played anywhere in the world, it's almost guaranteed Indiana can make a bet on it. Sportsbooks are available for virtually any sport that's being played -- tennis, hockey, soccer, golf, fencing, bowling.
"There is cricket you can bet on, for goodness sake," said Hugh Aufill, sports book manager at Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg. "There is darts you can bet on."
Long known as the state of basketball obsession, Indiana proved itself not to be when it comes to wagering. Instead, the state likes football and parlay betting.
During the 4-month period, Indiana bettors spent $178.6 million on football; $114.4 million on parlays; $82.2 million on basketball; $40.5 million on other sports; and $14 million on baseball.
A parlay bet is one that combines more than one bet -- and can be on different games and sports. For example, a bet could be made on an IU basketball game and an NFL playoff game. Both bets would need to be won to collect any winnings.
Bichsel said Indiana is "fairly in line" with what he's seen in other states when it comes to sports betting trends. Football and parlay betting are king. And mobile betting is the platform of choice.
Still, he said, Indiana will likely see its mobile betting jump from the 68% it's at now. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, online betting regularly accounts for more 80% of the total handle, with New Jersey trending past 85% in recent months.
Other online sportsbooks are expected to pop up this year in Indiana, Bichsel said. The state now has four: DraftKings, FanDuel, BetRivers and BetAmerica.
The state will continue to benefit from the fact that neighboring states Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky do not offer sports betting, he said. Michigan recently legalized sports betting, with implementation expected in the next few months.
"But with the huge Chicago market on its doorstep and nearby Cincinnati lacking legal sports betting options, plus being a sports-mad state in its own right," Kelsey McCarson, of Gambling.com wrote, "Indiana's sports betting market should continue to carve out its own Midwestern sports betting niche."
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.