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New data suggests legal NFL betting has hit an all-time high

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The first week of NFL games generated not only touchdowns but also a record volume of legally placed sports bets, according to a geolocation company.

GeoComply Solutions, a Canadian tech company referenced by most of the legal U.S. sports betting industry, said Monday that it recorded a record number of transactions placed between Thursday night, when the NFL season began, through 7 p.m. on Sunday. The company reported 58.2 million geolocation transactions across 18 states and Washington, D.C. — a 126% increase from the same period of the 2020 NFL season, when GeoComply processed 25.8 million transactions.

While not definitive, the figures help confirm an expected big increase in the level of online betting as football season got under way in a nation with many more places to bet this year.

"We expected high volumes, but what we have seen has surprised us nonetheless," said Lindsay Slader, a managing director with GeoComply. "The level of demand across new markets, such as Arizona, indicates that consumers have long waited for the option to legally place a sports bet."

Most U.S. betting firms use GeoComply solutions as part of the process of verifying its users are who they say they are.

The data records the amount of times the company was called on to verify a customer's location. It is considered a good indicator for at least a minimum level of sports betting activity, more than 80% of which is done online in the U.S.

GeoComply said it saw the most activity in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and Arizona.

Arizona, which launched legal sports betting on Thursday, has seen more than 6.1 million geolocation transactions from more than 271,000 newly created accounts since then, the company said Monday.

"Arizona, in its first day on Thursday, had more wagered online than mature states like Michigan, Colorado and Tennessee at the FanDuel Sportsbook," spokesman Kevin Hennessy said.

Earlier this year, gamblers placed a record $4.3 billion in bets on Super Bowl LV, marking "the largest single-event legal handle in American sports betting history," the American Gaming Association said. 

The NFL, NCAA and other sports have seen skyrocketing sports betting activity in recent years. Two trends are driving this growth, experts say. More states are legalizing sports betting, and online sportsbooks have become more popular during the coronavirus pandemic which has curtailed the activities of hundreds of millions of people.

DraftKings, FanDuel and other online betting platforms have become some of the biggest winners in the sports-betting explosion. DraftKings generated $614 million in revenue in 2020 and expects to cash in a cool $1 billion this year. FanDuel's parent company Flutter Entertainment said its 2020 betting revenue was $896 million, an 81% spike from 2019.

All told, 26 states have legalized sports betting, according to the gaming association. New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 clearing the way for any state to adopt legal sports betting. 

States require a gambler to be physically located within their borders in order to make an online sports bet, which is where geolocation technology comes in. It uses a combination of cell phone data, software, hardware and databases to determine where a phone or laptop trying to make a bet is located.

While it's true that customers can log in and have their location verified without actually placing a bet, many gamblers also make more than one bet after a single log-in.

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