Battle of the US Newcomers: The Top Three States for Debut Month Sports Betting Handle

  • As US betting continues to grow, market newcomers have set records for debut monthly handle
  • Tennesseeans bet $131.4m during the online-only market’s debut month in November 2020
  • Virginia more than doubled this in February last year when its sportsbooks generated $265.8m 
  • Arizona announced it had earned the crown for debut months last week, with its $486.1m total
Sporting equipment with cash
VSO News has created a list of the top three debut months for sports betting in the US so far, topped by Arizona with its record-breaking total annouced last week. [Image:]

Records continue to tumble

With around 30 states now providing legal wagering, including 18 also offering online sportsbooks, 100 million Americans now have access to betting. As a result, handle and revenue records continue to fall across the country.

nationwide handle looks set to almost certainly surpass $50bn

US betting handle reached $21.5bn in 2020, led by New Jersey’s total of approximately $6bn. Last year, the market grew into a different beast entirely. Although the American Gaming Association has not yet released December results, nationwide handle looks set to almost certainly surpass $50bn.

In part, this growth is the result of new states joining the market in 2021, with a total of 11 additional jurisdictions going live over the course of the year. While the nation’s more mature markets compete for the title of highest overall handle, these newcomers have the chance to set a benchmark of their own through debut monthly totals.

In honor of Arizona earning the crown for most betting handle in a full debut month last week, VegasSlotsOnline News has taken a look at the top three states in this category to put the astounding achievement into context.

3. Tennessee

First full month:  November 2020

First full month handle: $131.4m

Total reported handle to date (Nov 2021): $2.7bn

Tennessee’s sports betting market first gained attention when it generated handle of $27m in just its first week. The online-only market launched on November 1, 2020, and its four active sportsbooks – FanDuel, DraftKings, Tennessee Action 24/7, and BetMGM – quickly gained momentum. This spurred the state to a, then national record, of $131.4m in gross wagers.

the first state to launch without an in-person sportsbook

Some analysts expressed surprise at the record-breaking total, particularly considering Tennessee represented the first state to launch without an in-person sportsbook offering. Physical sportsbooks typically help boost awareness of the availability of betting in the early days, but Tennessee evidently didn’t require such assistance to get going.

Tennessee wagering has continued to perform since its opening weeks, growing significantly over the past few months in particular. From August to September last year, the state’s handle increased by more than 78%. The last reported total in November grew a further 42% from this to $365.7m.

The state has now added mobile betting app offerings from Caesars Sportsbook, WynnBet, and TwinSpires. In other notable news, the Sports Wagering Advisory Council took over regulatory duties of the market on January 1 after legal issues between the former regulator and Action 24/7.

2. Virginia

First full month: February 2021

First full month handle: $265.8m

Total reported handle to date (Nov 2021): $2.8bn

Sportsbooks had high hopes for Virginia’s sports betting market due to the state’s population of more than 8.5 million. Halfway through the month of January last year, it joined Tennessee as one of the US’s online-only markets when FanDuel completed the surprise launch of its sportsbook in partnership with the Washington Football Team.

up 102% from the record-breaking debut set by Tennessee

Virginia has surpassed the expectations of many since that launch. Its sportsbooks generated handle of $265.8m in the first full month of betting in February, up 102% from the record-breaking debut set by Tennessee. From January 2021 to November 2021, the market saw $2.8bn in wagers, accounting for $254.4m in revenue.

In comparison, neighboring West Virginia went live with its own sports betting market in September 2018. The state made handle of just $7.3m in its first month. Total wagers since then have amounted to just $1.2bn – less than half of Virginia’s total for just 11 months.

In December, PointsBet became the 11th operator to offer sports betting in Virginia, joining the likes of Barstool Sportsbook, BetMGM, DraftKings, and WynnBet. Five more apps have indicated that they plan to launch in Virginia in the next few months.

1. Arizona

First full month: October 2021

First full month handle: $486.1m 

Total reported handle to date (Oct 2021): $777.3m

In regards to debut months for sports betting, Arizona has secured the equivalent of a blowout result. Governor Doug Ducey first legalized sports betting in Arizona by signing HB 2772 into law in April last year. The highly-anticipated market then eventually launched halfway through the month of September.

more wagers in October than the debut months of Virginia and Tennessee combined

Despite just missing out on the start of the NFL season, Arizona sportsbooks scored touchdown after touchdown once they went live. The state saw $486.1m in handle in its first full month in October, smashing the record set by Virginia in February. In fact, Arizona sportsbooks took in more wagers in October than the debut months of Virginia and Tennessee combined. 

Within that record-setting total, online sportsbooks dominated handle. The state’s mobile market produced 99% of the $777m in wagers for September and October. Meanwhile, in-person sportsbooks from the likes of FanDuel and Caesars contributed just $9.8m. DraftKings took the most bets, reaching $151m in October.

Arizona’s performance has proven so impressive that industry sources widely believe the state will surpass $1bn in handle when it releases figures for November, which would make it the quickest US jurisdiction to ever do so.

Of course, 2022 should provide some new contenders in the battle for debut month dominance, but it’s fair to say that Arizona has well and truly thrown down the gauntlet.

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