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POLL: 70% of Americans say they are more likely to watch a sports event they bet on

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer
MGM Resorts CEO James Murren, left, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speak at a news conference in New York on Nov. 27, 2018. (AP/Seth Wenig)

Major League Baseball this week held a press conference to crown MGM as the league’s first “official gaming partner.” All the deal means is that MGM paid MLB for the right to say it’s the first legal betting partner of pro baseball, and MLB will now promote MGM as such—just like what the NBA did with MGM in August.

But if you zoom out, this all has a larger significance: After the U.S. Supreme Court in May struck down PASPA, the federal statute that kept states from legalizing sports betting, the major U.S. sports leagues (particularly NBA and MLB) have reacted swiftly, on the thinking that if fans can now place legal bets in more states (seven now total), they will happily do so.

A new survey confirms the wisdom of that bet. The latest Seton Hall University Sports Poll, shared exclusively with Yahoo Finance, finds that 70% of Americans surveyed say they are more likely to watch a sports event if they have placed a bet on it.

On the other hand, 61% of Americans surveyed say that legal betting on sports events leads to cheating or fixing of games. In other words, fans think legalized betting creates a slippery slope ethically—but they still want to bet.

Seton Hall conducted the poll this week by calling 741 U.S. adults, and the results have a 3.7% margin of error.

Interestingly, people are basically split on whether they believe legal sports betting should be permitted on college sports: 35% of people say only pro sports, 42% say pro and college. (The rest said “neither” or had no opinion.)

Among other interesting highlights, only 40% of people say they “approve” of the SCOTUS decision to strike down PASPA and allow states to legalize sports betting, and only 32% of people say they would be more likely to bet on games if their state legalized. Taken together with the 70% who say they’re more likely to watch a game when they bet, it suggests that most people are either already betting or not, regardless of legality in their state, and aren’t about to rush to the local regulated sportsbook the moment their state legalizes. (The leagues, of course, hope they will.)

The idea that betting on a game increases your personal interest is not new, and it is a narrative that the fantasy football industry has always pushed as well, to underscore its significance and value to the NFL. Still, 70% is a striking figure, and a reminder of why so many interested parties believe so strongly that legalized betting will quickly make the betting market much bigger.

Pro leagues like MLB and the NBA, says Seton Hall Sports director Rick Gentile, “appear to be ‘all in’ with something once impossible to imagine.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance and hosts the Sportsbook podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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