Gaming Business

Indiana Sports Betting Dips in February, Will March Madness Help It Rebound?

All good things must come to an end sometime. And for sports betting in Indiana, the time for that was February.

An Indiana state highway worker installs a sign on Interstate 70 earlier this month to promote the upcoming NCAA Basketball tournament. The 68-team event, which will take place entirely in Indiana, will be the first held since Indiana legalized sports betting two years ago. (Image: Indiana Department of Transportation)

The state’s sportsbooks posted a handle of $273.9 million last month, down from $348.2 million in January. That ends a string of record-setting betting totals that dated back to September, according to data from the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC).

The lack of football played a major role in the decline. Yes, there was the Super Bowl in February, but the IGC reported a handle of just $18.8 million for football bets last month, compared to $77.6 million in January. Parlays, which are tracked separately, fell by nearly $20 million from $86.1 million in January to $66.4 million last month.

Thanks to the decline in the handle, taxable revenue for the licensed sportsbooks dropped precipitously. The licensees posted revenues of $17 million last month, down from $29.3 million in January. As a result, Indiana’s tax revenue went from $2.8 million in January to $1.6 million.

While the handle dropped, the share of bets made online continued to grow. The 10 mobile sports betting apps accounted for $241 million, or 88 percent of the handle last month. That’s up from 85.2 percent in January.

March Madness to the Rescue?

Basketball once again reigned supreme, as college and pro hoops were responsible for about 46 percent of all money bet last month. And with the $127.2 million wagered in February, basketball supplanted football as the top individual sport for the 2021 fiscal year. Since July, more than $473.8 million has been bet on hoops, compared to just $446.7 million for football.

Some of that is attributable to the resumption of NBA basketball last summer, as the playoffs in a normal year would have ended in June. The gap between football and basketball will definitely widen this month thanks to the NCAA Tournament.

This year marks the first time the state will be able to book bets on March Madness, something else that COVID took away last year. What may make March even bigger is that the entire tournament will be held in the Indianapolis area over the next three weeks.

Not only will 68 teams descend on the Hoosier State, but many may also bring fans with them. Last month, the NCAA announced the arenas used can hold fans at up to 25 percent capacity during the tournament. The Indianapolis Star said that could bring thousands of fans to the city.

My guess is there’s a fairly big appetite for fans of these teams,” said Michael Hicks, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University told the Star.

Those fans may not just take in games and eat at local establishments. (Quick aside: As someone who has spent a good deal of time in Indy, if you go, hit Mass Ave downtown or the Broad Ripple neighborhood just north of downtown.) They may just download a sports betting app or two and bet on their favorite team.

Illinois, Michigan Affecting Hoosier Retail Sportsbooks

Overall, Indiana sports betting has fared remarkably well in the months since neighboring Illinois launched mobile wagering. With 8 million Chicago residents right on Indiana’s doorstep, some assumed that a substantial portion of the Hoosier State’s market would dry up once Illinois allowed DraftKings and FanDuel to start taking bets.

As noted previously, that didn’t necessarily happen, as Indiana kept posting record revenues. But that’s not to say there wasn’t an impact. A comparison from the state’s February 2020 totals shows retail sportsbooks have taken a hit, especially those in the northwestern corner of the state.

Take Horseshoe Hammond, for example. The Caesars Entertainment casino is located less than a mile from the Illinois border. In February 2020 – the last month before sports betting became legal in Illinois – the Horseshoe’s retail sportsbook posted a handle of $12.4 million. Last month, its handle was just $4.1 million.

A short drive away is the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. The Penn National venue didn’t take as big a hit as Horseshoe. Still, Ameristar’s sportsbook saw its handle drop by $1 million from February 2020 as it took just $4.9 million in bets last month.

It’s not just impacting those near the Illinois state line, either. In February 2020, the Blue Chip Casino’s sportsbook in Michigan City reported a handle of $2.1 million. Last month – the first full month for mobile sports betting in nearby Michigan – the Boyd Gaming property saw its retail handle drop to just $632,915.

Steve Bittenbender

Horse Racing, Sports Betting, Gaming Legislation, Midwest and Gulfport Casinos----Steve Bittenbender is a veteran reporter, and brings more than two decades of experience covering sports, gaming business, and politics and legislation to Casino.org, which he joined in 2019. Based in Louisville, Kentucky -- the epicenter of the US horse racing industry -- Steve has also covered major collegiate and professional sports for the Associated Press and the Louisville Courier Journal, and is frequently featured on local network TV newscasts and podcasts for his horse racing business and legislative expertise. A Reuters contributor, he has also previously served as editor for Government Security News. Steve lives with his wife and son, and is an avid poker player, having learned from his uncle as a wholesome after-school pasttime with cookies and milk. Email: stevebittenbender@casino.org

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Steve Bittenbender