Legal sports betting in the United States is a booming market (an estimated $4 billion in 2021).  Eighty percent of the states have either legalized sports betting or have introduced legislation to permit it.  In twenty states, sports betting is already operational and two more states, North Carolina and New Mexico, allow sports betting at tribal casinos.

Leisure and entertainment giants are moving to get in on the action.  ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Company, is trying to license its brand to such major sports betting companies as Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings, Inc., the latter specializing in online gambling.  ESPN is reportedly offering to let a sportsbook use its name and possibly even rename its sportsbook ESPN.

Penn National Gaming, the owner of the most horse racing tracks in the United States, bought a large stake in Barstool Sports in 2020.  Well-known brands like MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment are also aggressively pursuing the sports betting market with acquisitions and apps. 

And the National Football League, for the first time in its history, is accepting advertisements from sports betting firms, with a limit of six ads per game.  The NFL has authorized seven companies to advertise: DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars, Fox Bet, BetMGM, WynnBET, and PointsBet. The NFL embracing gambling companies is a 180 degree change for a league that traditionally spurned gambling and would not sanction a team in Las Vegas, until the Oakland Raiders moved there.

The forgoing developments are by no means the only deals in the works, as media companies like Sinclair Broadcasting and CBS scramble to not be left out. 

It may be that a significant portion of the estimated $4 billion in legal betting on sports is not new money, but rather, is money being shifted from illegal betting. If that is the case, growth in the overall sports betting market is not accelerating as fast as it appears to be.

The degree to which burgeoning legal sports betting will cannibalize, promote, or have little effect on horse racing handle is not yet clear.  The commercial future of horse racing in the United States to a large extent depends on the answer to this question. 

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