Super Bowl 53 is coming on Sunday evening, and while the matchup between the New England Patriots and L.A. Rams has meant weaker demand for ticket sales, gambling on the game is projected to hit an all-time-high.
A new survey from the American Gaming Association, conducted by Morning Consult, finds that nearly 23 million (or 1 in 10) American adults plan to bet on the big game this year. The betting is predicted to hit $6 billion total. (The survey of 2,200 people was conducted online on Jan. 22.)
As of Jan. 29, five days before the game, 52% of bets are being placed on the Rams, and the Patriots are favored at most sportsbooks by 2.5 points.
Even as the tide of legalized sports betting continues—seven states have joined Nevada in legalizing a form of sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court decision last May—that doesn’t mean everyone betting on the Super Bowl will do it legally. The AGA says 1.8 million of those 23 million Americans plan to bet illegally through a bookie, and millions more are likely to bet illegally through offshore sportsbooks.
“As far as changing the behavior, until we have legalized sports betting throughout this country, I think people are still going to be driven to the black market, unfortunately,” says Sara Slane, senior vice president of public affairs at the AGA. “But clearly, with $6 billion being bet, people love their sports betting. Clearly there’s a lot of pent-up demand for it.”
The AGA has estimated that the NFL would rake in $2.3 billion a year from legalized sports betting. But the NFL has been particularly reluctant, especially compared to the other major U.S. pro leagues, to embrace legalized betting even in the wake of the landmark SCOTUS decision. Earlier this month, the league did make Caesars its first official casino partner, a major symbolic step, but it is for now mostly a marketing partnership.
Meanwhile, more and more states are moving in a domino effect to legalize sports betting in their state. 15 states currently have pending legislation to allow some form of sports betting. And the AGA, which lobbied aggressively for a change to the existing law and finally got it last year, has encouraged states to take action. “There is just such a huge illegal market,” says Slane, “and it really does benefit the states to legalize it and capture that lost revenue.”
At $6 billion, Super Bowl betting will eclipse all legal bets placed on other sports events in the past year.
Listen to former Patriots exec Michael Lombardi on the Jan. 31 episode of the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast:
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.