Last year, when season 16 of the singing competition show The Voice wrapped up, we asked if the right singer had won. It’s an annual question, and one that gets to the very nature of competition shows (which the U.S. has churned out so reliably over the years). We watch these shows to be entertained, sure, but also to speculate about outcomes and argue over results. Now, however, we’re wondering: How much more intense would these shows be if they also had their own betting markets?
This could soon be the reality in the U.S., where after years and years of dormancy, gambling is making a return. For a long time, to be clear, there was a nationwide ban on gambling activity that made it illegal in all but a few select areas. But in 2018 that ban was laid to rest, as the U.S. government officially made it legal for states to adopt their own rules and regulations for internet-based gambling activity.
It started in New Jersey, where sports betting was legalized almost instantly. The state had in fact been behind various challenges to the aforementioned nationwide ban, and so was prepared and eager to allow gambling businesses as soon as they were no longer prohibited. And early reports on New Jersey betting indicate that the industry is already bringing in serious revenue, and growing fairly rapidly. For instance, the net revenue from New Jersey betting sites in December of 2019 was $29.43 million, up from $20.81 million the previous year.
Numbers like those are already inspiring other states to allow betting businesses, and now it seems as if most or all of the U.S. will host such businesses within a few more years. Putting it simply, online betting is going to be a mainstream American activity in short time. But what will this actually mean for U.S. entertainment and culture?
Getting back to the point about The Voice, it could well mean that the always-active U.S. reality show industry will become even more popular. Already, reality shows are among the few weekly TV events that still seem to get audiences to tune in together. As mentioned, those fans speculate and debate about the state of the competition. In some cases (as with The Voice) there are even apps that allow viewers to play along with the show in one way or another. Should these competitions be included in betting markets, though — and this will inevitably happen — fans will become even more personally invested in the outcomes. A popular genre of TV entertainment will likely become all the more popular.
The main impact of legal gambling in the U.S., meanwhile, will be in the world of sports. Already, a sort of unofficial infrastructure is in place that indicates an immense appetite among U.S. sports fans for betting. For instance, it’s sometimes estimated that over $100 billion is already bet illegally every year in America (with some particularly gaudy numbers sometimes thrown around about Super Bowl betting in particular). The daily fantasy sports market — which exists in many states as the closest thing to legalized betting — supports incredibly high volumes of real-money fantasy competitions one a day-to-day basis. And the annual “March Madness” tournament (college basketball’s postseason) may support more speculative participation than any other sporting event on the planet; last year, 17.2 million brackets were filled out by people attempting to predict tournament results. Rest ass
ured many of the people behind those brackets are prepared to bet on those same results!
Finally, we might also see the new betting options in the U.S. grow to influence political speculation — perhaps fairly significantly. Right now, political speculation in the U.S. consists largely of a combination of punditry and poll analysis. Occasionally, leading pollsters or political analysts (such as the folks at ESPN affiliate FiveThirtyEight) will reference betting markets’ take on politics. And there is one pseudo-betting platform available online — PredictIt — that has been described as a current-events stock exchange, and which some occasionally look to for predictive value. But for the most part, Americans don’t currently consider actual gambling odds when considering political elections. That is likely to change as betting markets take hold. Those platforms are all but
certain to start including odds on major political events and campaigns, and it’s likely that those odds, in addition to inspiring significant betting activity, will come to influence the conversation.
It will be interesting to see what other effects betting ends up having on U.S. culture and entertainment. We can be fairly sure, though, that it will at least influence how people follow reality television, sports, and politics — and likely within just a few years.