The sports betting industry continued its massive growth in 2021. More and more states legalized sports betting during the year. Additional states such as Louisiana and New York are expected to begin accepting bets early in 2022. Television broadcasts no longer need to hide the fact that they are referencing point spreads and over/unders. It's a new world and it's finally being embraced by the masses.
The year featured many memorable moments across the sports world as we try to return to normal. Which games received the most action during the year? Which players were popular prop bets? What were some of the biggest bets from bettors?
Super Bowl is the pinnacle
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Super Bowl was the most bet game of 2021. The final game of the NFL season is almost always the most bet game of any given year. It attracts plenty of action from both serious bettors, casual sports bettors and even people that almost never bet. There are plenty of people who bet just once or twice a year, and for those people, the Super Bowl is often one of their indulgences.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, 31-9. Tampa Bay cashed as a +135 moneyline underdog. The line moved between 3 and 3.5-points, but either way, Tampa Bay covered the spread as an underdog with ease.
The Super Bowl also produced the two biggest wins at BetMGM this year. One bettor risked $2.3 million on the Buccaneers to cover as a 3.5-point underdog. The bet returned $2 million in profit. On the same game, a bettor risked $1 million on the Buccaneers moneyline. The bettor profited $1.35 million on his bet.
NFL remains king
All 10 of the most-bet events of 2021 were NFL games. As mentioned above, the Super Bowl ranked first. The rest of the top 10 were an assortment of Thursday night and Monday night games. It's worth noting that sports betting has grown at such an exponential rate that regular season games from the 2021 regular season received more betting action than playoff games in January 2020.
Here are some notable NFL bets from 2021:
A bettor risked $1.2 million on the Buffalo Bills to cover a 2.5-point spread as favorites over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC divisional round. Buffalo won the game,17-3, netting the bettor a profit of $999,960.
Another bettor risked $1.1 million on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round. The bettor needed the Packers to cover a 6.5-point spread against the Los Angeles Rams in order to profit $956,560. Green Bay did just that in a 32-18 win.
One bettor won $500,005 when the Cleveland Browns covered (and won outright) as 5.5-point underdogs in the wild-card round against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Props make a big rise
Prop betting is an extremely popular way for bettors to get involved in games in which they don't have a real feeling on a side or total. With the popularity of fantasy sports, prop betting basically combines sports betting with the skillset needed for fantasy sports success.
NBA prop betting is an extremely popular market as the most popular props came mostly from the NBA. Of course, NFL prop betting is also extremely popular. NHL prop betting and MLB prop betting might not have the market those first two do, but they're still fun and popular.
Here are the top five players in each sport when it comes to the most popular bets in the prop market:
NFL: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen
NBA: Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Trae Young, Chris Paul
MLB: Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Freddie Freeman, Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper
NHL: Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Brayden Point
Most popular event in every sport
We already know about the Super Bowl's drawing power. We also mentioned that NFL games remain king when it comes to generating betting handle. But which games across other sports received the most betting action?
NBA: Game 4 of the NBA Finals received the most betting action of any NBA game this year. The Bucks won and covered as 4.5-point favorites over the Suns en route to winning the title.
MLB: The most-bet MLB game was the NL wild-card game. The Los Angeles Dodgers were significant -220 favorites and they came through against the St. Louis Cardinals, thanks to a walk-off, two-run home run by Chris Taylor.
NHL: The most popular NHL game in terms of betting handle was Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. The Lightning were -250 favorites and won the game, 1-0, to clinch the Stanley Cup.
CFB: The national championship game between Alabama and Ohio State was the most popular game to bet in college football. Alabama won and covered as an 8.5-point favorite.
CBB: Just like college football, the most popular bet in college basketball was the championship game. Gonzaga was a 4.5-point favorite, but Baylor won the game and covered the spread with ease.
Soccer: The European Championship final between Italy and England was the most frequently bet soccer game of the year. While the game ended in a draw, Italy ended up winning on penalty kicks and cashing for bettors who backed them to win the trophy at +100.
One bettor won $1 million off a $111,111 bet on Jon Rahm to win the 2021 U.S. Open at +900 odds.
To the surprise of nobody, the two most-bet UFC events of the year featured Conor McGregor.