So far, betting is legalized and available in 30 states and the District of Columbia. In five other states, sports betting is legalized but not yet operational. A 54 percent majority of Americans say the growing share of states that allow people to bet on sporting events is “neither good nor bad.” The rest are split on whether it’s good or bad, at 23 percent each.
Despite growing approval, 71 percent of Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the increasing availability of sports betting will lead to more people becoming addicted to gambling. Most Americans (64 percent) do not know anyone who has had a gambling problem too much or too often, but 21 percent say they have a family member with a gambling problem, 14 percent say they have a close friend with a gambling problem and 4% said they themselves had a gambling problem.
About a quarter, 24 percent, of Americans say professional athletes should be allowed to bet on games in their league if their team is not competing. A 76 percent majority said this should not be allowed. The NFL has suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for at least a year after he bet on NFL games.
Gambling advertising has become ubiquitous during sports broadcasts. Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they are bothered by these ads, compared to 54 percent for prescription drug ads and 25 percent for beer ads.
The most common way people bet on sports is among friends or through pool at the office, with 67 percent of sports bettors doing so in the past five years. About half of bettors say they bet online using betting websites and apps or fantasy sports (49 percent), while 40 percent bet in person at a casino. A much smaller 12 percent placed bets on stadiums or arenas.
Only 8 percent of U.S. adults report betting on sports monthly or more often, and fewer than 2 in 10 Americans, 17 percent, say they have placed a bet on a professional sporting event in the past five years. Among sports fans, 20 percent say they have placed a bet. That number is basically unchanged from the 21 percent who said the same in 2017.
The stability in the share of Americans who bet on sports since 2017 is consistent with other studies. An SSRS/Luker on Trends survey found that 16 percent of adults ages 21 and older said they had “ever bet on sports” in data from January to April 2022, little changed from between 15 and 16 percent in results from 2018 to 2021. This February, Marist College found that 36 percent of adults have ever bet on a professional or college sports game or participated in pool, down from 40 percent in 2017.
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Sports betting is common among avid sports fans: 48 percent have placed a bet in the past five years and 32 percent say they bet once a month or more, according to the Post-UMD survey.
The survey found that 62 percent of sports bettors under 50 had bet online, compared to 26 percent of those 50 and over. Bettors under 50 are also much more likely to bet on a stadium or arena (17 percent) than those 50 and older (3 percent).
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According to the Post-UMD survey, 7 percent of adults ages 21-25 say they placed a bet before turning 21, similar to 11 percent of all adults who say they bet on sports before turning 21 years. This suggests the increasing availability of online gambling has not led to a huge percentage of young adults gambling before the age of 21.
Keith White, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said his group’s internal data showed some growth in the number of gamblers since 2018 – but not by a large margin. “It means a lot of people are switching from illegal to legal gambling,” he said. “In the betting community, you look at frequency and cost. We suspect this is on the rise.”
Some of the most populous states in the country, including California and Florida, have yet to legalize gambling. New York launched this year. Several industry analysts noted that gambling operators and states brought in big revenues that were in line with forecasts.
Chris Grove, co-founder of Acies Investment, which focuses on gambling, sports and technology, said legalizing gambling will never convert non-sports fans or people who are not interested in gambling into sports bettors.
“The number of people going into an office pool or putting $5 into a game with a friend is not going to change,” he said. “But the US is clearly on track to match or surpass the performance of more mature gambling markets on an adjusted GDP per capita basis.”
The poll was conducted online May 4-17, 2022, among a random national sample of 1,503 adults by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement. The sample was drawn through the SSRS Opinion Panel, an ongoing survey panel drawn from a random sample of US households. Total results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.