Head of Data Products, UK

In mid-May, the US Supreme Court made a landmark ruling which could allow individual states across the nation to legalise sports betting.

As part of this, it endorsed a 2014 New Jersey state ruling permitting sports betting in casinos and at horse racing tracks. 

Naturally, this sent many gambling brands’ share prices soaring – not just in the US, but here in the UK too. No doubt betting firms such as Paddy Power and William Hill will be delighted at the prospect of entering the US market – particularly as betting brands here in the UK are still reeling from the government’s decision regarding fixed-odds betting terminals.  

William Hill is said to be in particularly strong position, as it of course already operates in Nevada where it has strong market presence, and is primed to launch its wider US operations. The news takes on even greater importance for William Hill after its toils in Australia.

In the US, YouGov explored this issue further. Among the general public, half (50%) believe that states should be able to legalise gambling. This compares to the quarter (24%) that say they shouldn’t, and 26% who aren’t sure.

Similarly, when asked if they agree or disagree with the statement ‘all gambling should be illegal’, only 20% of Americans agree while 65% disagree, with 15% are unsure.

We’re also able to see which sport’s fans are most open to the idea of legalised gambling. Looking first at those who rank Major League Baseball as one of their main interests, 70% don’t think that all gambling should be illegal. It is a similar story with those have the NFL as a major interest (also 70%), and while a majority of NBA fans share the same view, the proportion is slightly lower (60%).

And while you may imagine those who like golf to be slightly older and possibly more conservative in their views, on this issue this isn’t the case. Approaching two thirds (64%) of those who follow the Men’s PGA Tour believing gambling shouldn’t be illegal.

As might be expected in a country with only limited legal gambling, our Profiles data indicates that the overwhelming majority of Baseball (71%) and NFL (70%) have not taken part in any gambling activity in the past 12 months. Of those that have, online poker is the most popular thing to bet on (12% of MLB followers having done it), followed by entering an online lottery and playing casino slot games. Should sports gambling be legalised, there is evidently a large potential pool of fresh gamblers.   

The overall picture indicates that while there is a general belief that betting should be allowed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that sports fans will automatically rush to get involved given their usual sporting experience doesn’t currently consist of betting. However, their openness to the idea will encourage betting brands – and many will no doubt invest in advertising as a result.

Of course, gambling brands and sport teams are inextricably linked here in the UK from an advertising perspective. Here, gambling brands have worked hard to appeal to potential customers in varied ways, but whether all of those methods would work in the same way in the US is up for debate. If we think of Paddy Power’s irreverent and often sarcastic social media activity for example, perhaps this may need tweaking to appeal to a new audience that isn’t so aware of the company and its methods.

We can be certain that when the change in the law does come, the competition to secure new customers is likely to be just as intense as it is in the UK.

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