NJ’s Quest For $1B In Betting Handle In A Single Month Becomes Reality

The leading sports betting state just became the first to cross the billion-dollar betting barrier
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The long build toward New Jersey sportsbooks handling $1 billion in wagers in a single month finally reached that mark with the $1,011,114,311 for September announced on Monday by state regulators.

The progress toward becoming the first state in the U.S. to clear that remarkable threshold wasn’t all that linear.

Two weeks of action in the launch month of June 2018 produced a modest $16.4 million in wagers, which more than doubled that July, and that more than doubled in August, only to nearly double again in September 2018, when more than $183.9 million represented the first triple-digit figure for handle.

The first $200 million month came in October 2018 ($260.7 million), and $300 million was cleared the following month ($330.7 million).

After a modest dip in December to $319.2 million, January 2019 brought another record of $385.3 million.

But the end of the NFL season (except for the Super Bowl) meant that then-peak was not expected to be toppled in any of the next seven months — and it was not.

Along came September 2019, and the $400 million barrier fell ($445.6 million). Two months later, a half-billion dollars in bets was taken ($562.7 million).

Along came COVID, down went betting

The first two months of 2020 were around 50% higher than January-February of 2019, offering more optimism with March Madness just around the corner.

But the COVID-19 pandemic put the entire world in upheaval in March 2020, and the relatively insignificant domain of New Jersey sports betting was not spared. The NCAA basketball tourney and all other professional and collegiate sporting events of any significance were canceled.

The March 2020 handle of $181.9 million was thus the lowest since August 2018. But that wasn’t nearly the bottom. That came in April 2020, when just $54.6 million was gambled — the lowest since the first full month of legal, regulated betting in the state in July 2018.

The return of various sports in May, along with pent-up demand, led to a doubling of bets to $117.8 million and an upward trend that never quit the rest of 2020.

August 2020, suddenly a jam-packed pro sports month due to the delayed start of the NBA and NHL postseasons, became the first $600 million month ($668 million). The next three dominos fell neatly: $748.6 million in September, $803.1 million in October, and $931.6 million in November.

So nearly a year ago, there was similar anticipation of the first billion-dollar month. But December 2020 produced a tantalizing $996.3 million in wagers, and just as had happened a year prior, January 2021 couldn’t quite measure up, this time at $958.7 million.

The return of March Madness helped produce $859.6 million, nearly a half-billion more than in March 2019. Each of the next five months produced more than double the handle of the period 24 months earlier.

Some drama for September

The first “rebound month” for New Jersey gambling in 2020 was that $668 million in bets that August. In August 2021, the figure was $664.7 million.

A better comparison, however, would be to 2019. That’s when handle jumped right around 50% from August to September. Apply that frame of reference to 2021 and it’s no surprise that one notable monthly annual “over/under” projection for the month came out where it did:

If trend lines hold for September-January for a third straight year, then New Jersey will be able to hold to that $1 billion milestone four more times, and perhaps even threaten that figure in March 2022 as well.

After that? Probably a monthly figure below a billion dollars until next fall — and maybe to remain below $1 billion for a long time after, because of neighboring New York state.

New York finally has approved mobile sports wagering, with winning operators in the application process perhaps being announced in December and with advocates hoping to roll out the regulator-approved sportsbooks in time for the Super Bowl.

That timetable seems quite optimistic, but come September 2022, New York seems certain to be on board.

And with industry experts estimating that up to 20-25% of current wagers in New Jersey are made by New York residents crossing the Hudson River, a major chunk of that money may “stay home” next year if New York’s online sportsbooks offer competitive betting lines.

Monthly revenue numbers a gamble

It might be tempting to assume that the gross revenue of New Jersey sportsbooks dovetails quite nicely with handle.

But while there is a general trend in the same direction, there have been any number of “outlier months.”

Take September 2018, when the books took in a robust $24 million off just $183.9 million in bets. The books made about 10% on straight football wagers and even more on parlays as eager gamblers plunged into the first football-season month of legal sports betting in the state.

But partly due to millions lost on the Super Bowl, the books in February 2019 claimed just $12.7 million in revenue from $320.4 million in wagers.

Worse still was December 2019, when $557.8 million in bets brought a hold of just $29.4 million for the books — not even 5%. Yet a month later, a slightly lower handle of $540.1 million yielded a return nearly double that, at $53.6 million.

The pendulum swung back come February 2020, with a paltry $17 million hold off of $494.8 million in bets.

The January 2020 bonanza remained the record for revenue until last October, when $803.1 million in wagers returned a new record $58.5 million for the books.

The monthly sportsbook revenue high water mark remains January 2021, at $82.6 million, after September just barely missed at $82.4 million, for an 8.1% hold.

As September 2021 numbers continue to roll in state by state, here’s a look at each legal betting state’s biggest handle month to date:

StateMonth of Highest HandleSports Betting Handle
New JerseySeptember 2021$1,011,114,311
NevadaOctober 2020$659,222,395
IllinoisMarch 2021$633,614,957
PennsylvaniaJanuary 2021$615,294,827
MichiganSeptember 2021$386,780,231
IndianaSeptember 2021$355,425,184
ColoradoJanuary 2021$326,903,462
VirginiaMarch 2021$304,066,245
TennesseeJanuary 2021$211,300,000
IowaSeptember 2021$210,434,587
MississippiJanuary 2021$67,707,628
West VirginiaJanuary 2021$67,598,350
New HampshireJanuary 2021$59,795,433
Rhode IslandJanuary 2021$39,817,327
OregonJanuary 2021$34,935,891
DelawareNovember 2018$24,206,090
New YorkJanuary 2021$20,942,309
Washington D.C.June 2021$19,518,408
ArkansasJanuary 2021$7,187,194
MontanaJanuary 2021$5,799,090

Photo: Maslowski Marcin/Shutterstock

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