February slowdown for Indiana sportsbooks but hopes pinned on March Madness to boost business

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An underwhelming Super Bowl for Indiana sportsbooks managed to slow February’s handle to less than $275m, halting a five-month streak of record wagers for the state. 

But fresh records for monthly handle will almost certainly be coming in March as Indiana prepares to host the entirety of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, a once-in-a-lifetime event for local sports bettors, according to PlayIndiana

“Indiana remains a shining star among legal sports betting markets, even with a disappointing Super Bowl,” said Jessica Welman, analyst for PlayIndiana.com. “It is eye-popping to see a pullback, especially considering February marked the first full month of online sports betting in Michigan. 

“But the market has continued to expand in spite of increased competition from Illinois, so this is likely a momentary blip explained most easily by the uniqueness of Indiana’s market.”

Indiana sportsbooks generated $273.9m in February wagers, up 46.3% from $187.2m in February 2020, but falling well short of the record $348.2m set in January.

Adjusted gross operator revenue dropped to $17m from the record $29.3m set in January, but GOR was still up 52.9% from $11.1m in February 2019. All told, $1.6m was injected into state coffers from February’s wagering.

With only one NFL game, the Super Bowl, much of February’s decline can be attributed to a pullback in football betting. Indiana bettors placed $18.8m in wagers on football in February, compared with $77.6m in football bets in January. 

Meanwhile, basketball continued to be every bit as popular, generating $127.2m in bets during the 28 days in February, up slightly on a per-day basis with $133.2m in the 31 days of January.

“With two years of data now, I think it’s fair to say that the Super Bowl does not seem to drive as much interest in Indiana as in other event-dominated sports betting markets,” said Dustin Gouker, analyst for PlayIndiana.com. 

“But last year, before the pandemic shut down sports, we saw Indiana’s love of basketball begin to shine. And this March, that might be particularly so.”

In March, Indiana will be home to an unprecedented dynamic in the history of US sports betting. Every game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which is already one of the most important US sports betting holidays, will be played in a legal sports jurisdiction for the first time. 

Just as unusual, all of those games will be played in Indiana. In addition, residents of Illinois, where betting on in-state college teams is barred, could cross the border in significant numbers to wager on local hopefuls such as Illinois and Loyola Chicago.

Together, it could mean a surge in college basketball betting in Indiana that no single jurisdiction has ever experienced.

“Because this is the first time Indiana has offered legalized sports betting during March Madness, and because it is the sole host to the tournament, it is nearly impossible to project the exact impact of the games ahead of next week’s tip-off,” Gouker said. 

“Hosting the entire tournament will almost certainly create a surge in interest in wagering on the games. Ultimately, this will be a fascinating case study in the importance of local sporting events to bettors.”

In February, online betting generated $241m, 88.4% of the state’s overall handle, which was up from 85.1% in January. DraftKings/Ameristar Casino accounted for 39.4% of the state’s online handle with $107.4m in bets, down from $122.6m in January. 

That yielded $3.7m in gross receipts, down from $9.4m in January. FanDuel/Blue Chip Casino was second with $70.9m in bets, down from $89.2m. That led to a market-best $5m in gross receipts, down from $8.2m in January.

Retail sportsbooks produced $32.9m in February wagers, down from $41.3m in February 2020. Hollywood Lawrenceburg, nearest Cincinnati, led the retail market with $10.3m in wagers. Two Chicago-area casinos — Ameristar Casino with $4.9m and Horseshoe Hammond with $4.1m — combined to generate $9m in bets. 

“Cincinnati and Louisville remain important markets, and Chicago is still vital to Indiana’s retail outlets nearest the Windy City,” Welman said. “Indiana is more than capable of standing on its own, but out-of-state bettors still drive significant revenue even as Michigan and Illinois have grown into major markets with online and retail sportsbooks.”