Sports

2021 Was a Banner Year for Sports Betting Participation

The share of Americans ages 21 and up who said they regularly bet on sports increased by 80% over the course of the year

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults say they bet on sports at least once a month, according to Morning Consult data. (Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Ashley Berry)

The launch of legal wagering in 11 states and the investment of more than a billion dollars’ worth of marketing by sportsbooks has seriously boosted the number of Americans betting on sports in 2021, according to new Morning Consult research. At year’s end, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults said they bet on sports at least once a month.

Sports Betting Participation Increased Among Americans in 2021

U.S. adults ages 21 and up were asked how often they place any sort of monetary wager on sports

Surveys conducted Jan. 25-26 and Dec. 11-15, 2021, among representative samples of 2,096 and 4,224 U.S. adults ages 21+, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 and 1 percentage points, respectively.

What the numbers say 

  • Eighteen percent of U.S. adults ages 21 and older said in a December survey that they bet on sports at least once a month, which includes wagering online, at a brick-and-mortar sportsbook, with an unauthorized bookie, with friends and family or as part of a daily or season-long fantasy contest. That figure represents an 80 percent increase from a January 2021 survey in which 10 percent of respondents said they bet at least monthly.
  • The share of adults who bet on sports at least weekly more than doubled from 5 percent in January to 12 percent in December. The total share of adults who said they bet on sports at all, regardless of frequency, increased from 20 percent in January to 25 percent in December.
  • Interestingly, adults in legal betting states (of which there were 32 at the time of the December survey) and the District of Columbia were not any more likely to say they bet on sports than their counterparts in states that have yet to legalize sports betting.
Adults 44 and Under Are Far More Likely Than Older Peers to Bet on Sports

U.S. adults ages 21 and up were asked how often they place any sort of monetary wager on sports

Survey conducted Dec. 11-15, 2021, among a representative sample of 4,224 U.S. adults ages 21+, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-1 percentage point.

What the numbers say

  • Adults ages 44 and under are significantly more likely to say they participate in sports betting than their older peers. Thirty-one percent of respondents ages 35-44 said they bet on sports at least monthly, along with 28 percent of those ages 21-34. By comparison, just 10 percent of adults ages 45-64 and 5 percent of those 65 and older said they bet regularly.
  • Among regular bettors (those who bet at least monthly), 56 percent said they place wagers with an online or mobile sportsbook or fantasy sports website. Nearly half (48 percent) said they regularly place bets with family, friends or co-workers, while 23 percent said they go to a retail sportsbook and 18 percent bet with an informal “bookie.”
  • Almost a third of regular sports bettors (29 percent) said they typically bet $10 or less on an individual game or event, and nearly half (47 percent) said their usual bet for a single game is $25 or less. Just 14 percent of monthly bettors said their usual bet is more than $100. The breakdown was very similar among those who bet at least weekly.

The impact

The $1.2 billion the sports betting industry reportedly spent on U.S. marketing is converting a significant number of occasional bettors into regular bettors and, to a lesser degree, bringing new bettors into the fold. Much of last year’s spend specifically targeted residents of the 11 states that launched legal betting, but the paid infusion of sports betting odds, angles and storylines into live sports telecasts and editorial content reached fans regardless of where they lived. This could in part explain the fact that sports betting participation increased in both legal and illegal sports betting markets.

Given the proliferation of online sports betting and operators’ focus on digital marketing, it should come as no surprise that younger Americans are the most inclined to place wagers on games. Older fans who didn’t grow up betting on sports could be a tougher nut for the industry to crack, but there’s a significant opportunity for anyone who can reach this cohort.

The survey was conducted Dec. 11-15, 2021, among a representative sample of 4,224 U.S. adults ages 21 and up, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point. The sample included 973 sports bettors (3-point margin of error) and 684 regular sports bettors (4-point margin of error), which is defined as those who bet at least once a month.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the results of the January 2021 survey, including the share of adults who bet on sports at least weekly (corrected from 6 percent to 5 percent), the share of adults who bet on sports at least monthly (corrected from 11 percent to 10 percent) and the increase in the share of respondents who bet on sports between January 2021 and December 2021 (corrected from 63 percent to 80 percent).

Morning Consult