When Colorado sports betting came online in May, the sports world was still a sluggish mess. Professional American leagues were canceled, and no one was sure when they’d return. But during this uncertain time, sports betting revenue grew by leaps and bounds. Colorado’s new entertainment industry lost the source of its core content and became a multi-million-dollar industry in the time it takes for a fourth-grader to earn their first report card.
Despite record unemployment rates, Colorado sports betting is thriving, and it skyrocketed early. Here’s how the little sports betting industry that could made it in Colorado during the coronavirus pandemic.
What Did Colorado Look Like Back In May?
Now that sports have returned, it’s easy to forget how desperate the sports landscape looked during the summer. Few sports knew whether they were returning, and all of them were gone. CO sportsbooks found international leagues to set odds on, but there’s no sports betting without bettors.
But Colorado bettors weren’t making money like they were before the COVID shutdowns. In 2019, Colorado’s unemployment rate dropped from 3.2% to 2.5%. It held steady at 2.5% until March 2020, when social distancing and business closures began. Here are Colorado’s unemployment rates from March to August:
|August 2020 - Preliminary||6.7%|
More Coloradans were out of work than the previous year, but they still funded Colorado’s sports betting industry. It takes a particular kind of consumer to do that. Here’s who had the money to wager on sports despite dire economic challenges.
Most Colorado Sports Bettors Aren’t Professionals Or Problems
If there’s a clear picture of a typical Colorado sports bettor, it’s not publicly available. But we can take a pretty good guess at who has spare money to wager by looking at older sports betting markets.
How Many Professional And Problem Gamblers Wager
First, we can be confident that Colorado’s sports betting market is mostly funded by casual sports bettors. Professional bettors wager large amounts of money, but they’re in the minority. The pros rely on a deep knowledge of sports and leagues to make educated wagers. During the pandemic, many pros either pivoted or waited for familiar sports to return.
On the other end of the spectrum are problem gamblers. These aren’t people making educated guesses. They’re throwing money at the wall and hoping something sticks. A Swedish survey of gamblers during the pandemic found that:
- 84% of surveyed gamblers were no-risk gamblers.
- 5% of surveyed gamblers were problem gamblers.
- 4% of surveyed gamblers gambled more during the pandemic than before it.
Unless Swedish gamblers are radically different from Coloradans, problem gamblers are a minuscule part of the gambling industry.
How Much Professional And Problem Gamblers Wager
Problem gamblers wager more, but not enough to make up for regular bettors. In 2017, The Guardian reported that problem gamblers wager an average of 98 pounds per day. In comparison, the average no-risk bettor wagered 14 pounds per day. Problem gamblers are a small enough portion of the industry that they can’t be generating all of Colorado’s sports betting revenue.
The Centre for Gambling Education and Research in Lismore, Australia found something similar. They sampled a tote board operator over ten years and found the average wager ranged from $14.05 to $198.82. The high bets are skewed by professional bettors, so most bettors are betting fairly small amounts. Some professionals wager thousands of dollars at a time. But there aren’t enough of them to generate millions of dollars in bets by themselves.
Colorado sports betting isn’t funded by professional bettors or problem gamblers. It’s predominantly casual bettors.
Colorado Bettors Have Money, Education, And Enthusiasm
Sportsbooks are entertainment products. They’re not investment portfolios and they’re not essential businesses. Bettors who can afford to wager at sportsbooks likely already have money stored away.
Colorado Bettors Are Wealthy And College Educated
Horowitz Research published a report in May 2020 on post-COVID sports betting behavior. It found that the average sports bettor is more likely to come from a wealthy household than the average American. 54% of surveyed sports bettors came from households that made over $75,000 per year. The 2010 census found only 42% of Americans came from households that made that much.
Sports bettors also tend to be college-educated. 60% of their surveyed sports bettors had college degrees, compared to 33% of average Americans. College degrees are a gateway to higher salaries over a person’s career. College degree holders are likely to have higher salaries to begin with.
Colorado’s sports bettors are rich and educated. It’s no wonder they have money to spend on sports betting.
Colorado Bettors Miss Sports
But sports betting offers something for everyone during the pandemic, regardless of education, class, or income. It’s a lifeline to sports that the pandemic took from sports fans. 77% of Horowitz Research’s sports bettors thought betting made sports more enjoyable. And 68% of them said they’d rather spend money on betting than on game tickets.
Sports betting creates stakes that substitute the thrill of watching a live Broncos game–especially when they crush Kansas City at Mile High Stadium. Even unpopular sports like Darts can become interesting when each throw has money riding on it.
Sports betting also makes sports fans feel like they’re part of the game. That’s a feeling live games cannot hope to compete with during the pandemic era. Even when sports return, bettors will be used to mobile sports betting. Many fans will return to sports games. Many of them will also bet at the stadium during the game. But some will choose between mobile sports betting and attending live games. It won’t be 68% of bettors, but it may be a large enough group that stadiums have to cater to when normalcy returns.
Colorado Sports Betting Can Thrive In Poor Economic Conditions
Coloradans may be surprised that any gambling industry could do well under pandemic conditions. industries shouldn’t be doing well during the pandemic. But sports fans were starved of entertainment when sports disappeared. Concerts, movies, and other forms of live entertainment were gone.
But sports betting can be done remotely. Bettors can get involved in a Rockies game without turning it into a super-spreader event. Sports bettors are largely people with degrees and money to use during the pandemic. They can afford to entertain themselves despite the economic conditions they live in. COVID-19 has changed the way bettors bet from the beginning. And it’s because Colorado had enough people with the money and the passion for sports to spend on it.