One in Six Americans Gamble on Sports

by Jeffrey M. Jones

State lotteries are most common form of gambling

PRINCETON, NJ -- The Super Bowl is set to kick off this Sunday. Super Bowl Sunday is not only a big day for football fans, but also for TV watchers, partygoers, and, of course, gamblers. According to Gallup's annual Lifestyle Poll, 17% of Americans report gambling on professional sports in the past 12 months -- either by betting on the outcome of a specific game or by participating in an office pool around a sporting event.

Analysis of the data from the Dec. 6-9 poll finds that four demographic characteristics are related to one's propensity to gamble on professional sports: gender, age, income, and education.

Men (22%) are nearly twice as likely as women (13%) to gamble on professional sports, probably not surprising since men in general are more likely to be sports fans.

Younger Americans are much more likely to gamble on sports than older Americans -- 26% of 18- to 34-year-olds do so, compared with 18% of 35- to 54-year-olds and just 11% of those aged 55 and older.

Just 6% of those living in lower-income households (those with annual incomes of $30,000 or less) gamble on sports, compared with 17% of those residing in middle-income households (incomes between $30,000 and $75,000), but 28% of those in households whose income is $75,000 or greater.

College graduates (24%) are significantly more likely than nongraduates (14%) to gamble on sports.

Gambling on sports in both formats has declined over the past 15 years. In 1992, 12% of Americans said they had bet on a professional sports event in the past year, compared with just 7% today. The percentage who say they have participated in an office pool has dropped from 22% in 1992 to 14% today.

Sports gambling is not the most common game of chance for Americans -- that distinction belongs to playing state lotteries. Close to half of Americans say they have bought a state lottery ticket in the last year, nearly double the percentage who have participated in the next-most-common gambling activity, visiting a casino.

All told, 65% of Americans report that they participated in one or more forms of the 11 types of gambling tested in the poll.

Patterns of gambling in general do not necessarily follow those found for sports gambling. For example, men and women are about equally likely to participate in any form of gambling, 67% versus 63%. There are only modest differences by age, with older Americans (59%) somewhat less likely to gamble than younger (66%) or middle-aged (69%) adults. And there are no differences in gambling behavior between college graduates and nongraduates.

But general gambling behavior is significantly related to household income, with gambling activity much more common among higher-income (72%) than lower-income (55%) Americans. Middle-income Americans, at 66%, are closer to higher-income Americans in their gambling activity.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,027 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 6-9, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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