In a national survey conducted after Super Bowl 51, only 10% of Americans say they placed a bet on the big game. 84% say they did not bet on the game.
That figure may appear to contradict the American Gaming Association’s estimate that an eye-popping $4.7 billion was bet on the Super Bowl this year, an all-time high. But Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, says it’s easy to explain: “I honestly think people just won’t say they gambled,” he tells Yahoo Finance. “Or they simply don’t think a pool—like buying a box—is really gambling.”
For the purposes of the poll, Seton Hall asked 661 respondents across the country whether they “placed a wager” on the game; the poll defined a wager as a bet, pool, or fantasy league for money.
And here’s the more telling stat: 15% of respondents say they would have placed a bet on the game, if sports betting were legal.
“I’ve observed this question, or similar questions about gambling, in other polls, and the results are consistent,” Gentile says. “We’ve asked this question over the years about the Super Bowl and the NCAA [basketball] tournament and the results are the same. We know that everyone fills out tournament brackets, but polls come back that something like 15% admit to it.”
Of the $4.7 billion that the AGA estimates was bet this year, 97% of the bets were placed illegally. That bolsters the likelihood that at least some of the 555 survey respondents who said they did not bet are not being truthful.
Moreover, the steady rise in legally-placed bets in Nevada on the Super Bowl over the past 10 years matches the trend. More Americans are betting on sports every year. (See the below chart, using reported numbers from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.)
The AGA, which lobbies on behalf of the casino and gaming industry, has gone into overdrive in its effort to get sports betting legalized by getting PASPA repealed. (PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, effectively banned sports betting everywhere but in Nevada.) The election of Donald Trump, a former casino owner, has also created some cautious optimism that there is new momentum here. (See the above video for discussion of Trump and sports betting.)
And this week, at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in New York, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged that Americans are betting on sports, “whether it’s legal here or not.” As a result, he said, “We are reexamining our stance on gambling.”
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.