Opinion: Sports Betting Is Shiny & New, But Online Casinos Are Real Pot Of Gold

Written By Robyn McNeil on February 16, 2022 - Last Updated on September 20, 2022
Hip-hop group Public Enemy performs at the Bazant Pohoda Music Festival at the Trencin Airport in Trencin, Slovakia on July 7, 2012

Human beings, as it turns out, are a lot like crows.

We use tools to make life easier, hold grudges with ease, wear a lot of black and get distracted by shiny things.

In the matter of legal online gambling, sports betting is the shiny new toy on every wish list. But here’s a spoiler alert for headlines you’ll see after Ontario launches on April 4: Ontario online casinos will deliver the really eye-popping numbers.

Now here’s what I want you all to do for me: Don’t believe the hype

Don’t get me wrong; online sports betting is no slouch. Obviously, there’s money to be made in online sports wagering. If there wasn’t, it’s doubtful we’d have seen the uptake we have in the US to date.

We only need to look across the border to New York state’s startling success to see the opportunity sports betting offers.

In its first 30 days of online sports betting, the state brought in more than US$1.98 billion in combined betting handle. To further break that down, that means operators raised US$138 million in revenue. The state, on the other hand, hauled in US$70.6 million in tax payments. Most of that is earmarked for education in 2022.

And that’s just the first month of legalized sports betting in the city that never sleeps.

A numbers game

That said, there’s plenty of existing data that show, actually, online casinos are the golden goose. Current findings even suggest online casinos can reliably bring in at least twice the revenue of online sports betting.

For example, in March of 2021, online casinos (and poker rooms) brought in US$300 million for Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia.

During the same month, online sportsbooks in the four full-featured states captured a little less than US$150 million.

(Note: These states have legalized both online casinos and sports betting. In many jurisdictions, only online sports betting is legal. It will be interesting to see what happens if and when online casinos join the party in those states.)

However, in some cases, expectations that online casino revenue will be twice as nice as its sports betting counterpart are a bit low.

Michigan online casinos far outpacing sports betting revenue

Let’s consider Michigan.

The state launched online sports betting and casinos simultaneously in the latter half of January 2021. Two months later, in March, the state’s online sportsbooks pulled in more than US$32 million. Michigan’s online casino revenue, in contrast, surpassed US$95 million, just shy of three times its sports betting haul.

Looking at the entire year, in all of 2021, Michigan’s online casinos reaped US$1.1 billion in revenue. Following the March ’21 trend, online sportsbooks garnered US$292.2 million, more than three times less than casinos brought in.

Even in New Jersey, a long-standing market, online casino revenue has led since before the pandemic shutdowns took effect. And despite everything the last years have thrown our way, the ratio between sports betting and casino revenue has, for the part, maintained.

The same has proven true for the other fully legal states.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

Now, there’s not much evidence that online casino operators feel slighted about their lower stature. (And I’m sure the piles of cash they command provide some measure of comfort, lol.) But, it’s not impossible to imagine the sports betting frenzy might leave a chip on one’s shoulder.

Much like Jan Brady’s exasperation over the infatuation with Marcia, the fawning over sports betting must (at times) be a little much to take.

It’s undoubtedly similar to history’s unabashed fangirling over Thomas Edison or the modern fascination with Elon Musk. Both men get credited as prolific inventors despite actually not (individually) inventing much on their own. The pair’s true talents were (and are) more connected to their hiring practices. And Musk’s case, the initial funding behind his successful team came from family money.

Interestingly, just before writing this piece, I settled in for a rewatch of Legally Blonde during another’ Pandemic Friday’ at home.

I’m not here to slag Reese Witherspoon’s sparkly Elle Woods (Actually, I’m a big fan).

Woods is a phenomenal character that deserves her due. But I keep thinking about the ever-steady and resourceful Emmett Richmond (played by Luke Wilson). It seems (for me) there’s a parallel between Elle’s ability to attract attention (sportsbooks) and Emmett’s stalwart personality (casinos).

I’m not saying one’s better than the other. In fact, I’d argue the two personalities complement both the movie and the online gambling industry.

I’m certainly intrigued to see what happens when the doors blow off Ontario in April.

But I digress.

Come together, right now, over me

Another thing humans have in common with crows: we’re social beings.

I believe this is a significant factor in our fascination with sports betting. There’s very little social aspect when gambling at online casinos.

Think about it: when we indulge in online casino play, it’s something we do alone in most cases. While I don’t doubt online gamblers have favourite platforms or games that they seek out, internet casinos don’t offer the same kind of connection we get in sports betting communities.

While it’s true that making online bets is often a solo activity, we regularly come together to watch the games and matches play out. Even during the pandemic, when situations put that connectedness on hold, we transitioned to virtual communities.

Whether on Reddit or Twitter or somewhere else, people are having conversations about sports betting. I’ve not seen a ton of the same around online casinos.

Heck, there are already hundreds (thousands+?) of websites, podcasts, television shows and Twitter Spaces (and more) dedicated to sports betting commentary. And, if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that’s only the beginning. There will be a lot more.

So, it makes sense that online sports betting garners more pomp and circumstance than its dependable cousin.

That said, the sheer heft of online casinos contribution to online gaming revenues garners deep respect even as we celebrate online sports betting.

Photo by Michal Durinik, Shutterstock
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Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, and hoppy beer.

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