Early in 2020, something unusual happened. You may have heard about it. And it had a ripple effect across a variety of businesses. Some businesses, labeled essential, nearly thrived. Others, like the airline industry, neared death from starvation, and will likely never be the same. Sports seasons were canceled, and sports betting, now legal nearly everywhere, took a huge hit. At first.

That’s because, in the United States and various parts of the world, sports are a huge part of our culture. We watch them, attend events, and even bet on them. Betting as a form of entertainment basically raises the stakes of watching the event. Essentially, the better has a stake, or to use gambling terms, some skin in the game.

So the best betting sites turned to unusual places, sports, and betting on things like marble racing that, until that point wasn’t even on the betting radar. Even as restrictions ease in many states, games will be played to empty or highly modified stands, lower-numbered crowds, and other big changes.

So is sports betting an essential business then? Well, that depends on how you define essential.

The Gambler

While some gamblers can get addicted to sports betting (and if you are someone like that, please seek help) many people engage in betting as a hobby. It helps them find sports more interesting.

However, gamblers themselves contribute a lot to the economy. The gambling industry itself contributes over $11.0 billion in labor and wages alone on an annual basis. That’s over 217,000 jobs.

The cancellation of many sports events led gamblers to place bets on many things like online gaming tournaments and more digital ways to get their sports fix. While the industry experienced an initial drop, more people at home and bored led to even more entertaining gambling solutions. That means the gambler turns out to be a huge economic contributor.

The Legal Gambling Industry

The contribution of the gambler is one thing, but the legal gambling industry is a huge contributor to the economy overall to the tune of 41.2 billion annually and growing. That puts its contribution to the Gross National Product at $22.4 billion.

Even though things moved from in-person events to gamblers being more likely to use a sportsbook online the industry’s economic impact continues. Gambling contributes to local economies as well, to the tune of over $8 billion dollars.

That’s big money in a time when many other businesses are struggling to survive.

Entertainment Value

For a moment, though, let’s focus on the emotional impact of gambling and sports betting. Think for a moment about the last sporting event you attended. (For some of us it has been a while). How much did you spend? How did you feel about drinking that $8 beer?

Sports betting, especially online, allows for a more economical experience that still provides a similar level of entertainment. While the rash of “live” online performances by bands has not diminished the desire for live concerts when things are back to a new normal, they do offer some diversion.

This is true for online gambling as well. But online gambling offers even more, from poker games to casinos that simulate the real experience while offering social distancing. There have even been online poker tournaments to benefit various charitable organizations similar to the mentioned concerts.

Is Gambling Essential?

The answer to this question may depend largely on what state you are in, and what your perspective is on legal sports betting. But for many people, the answer has turned out to be “yes”. Just like other hobbies, for some, this is an essential part of their unwinding and relaxation, and the ability to continue anything “normal” at this time has real value.

The other factor is the simple fact that gambling is entertainment and a hobby that can be done while social distancing, but still allows for a social outlet, interaction with other “players,” and a release for those who engage in it regularly.

And that essential nature is not likely to go away as we move into the phase where, at least for a while, all the rules are changing to help slow the spread or resurgence of a global pandemic. Online gambling, sports betting, and even poker and casinos will be an integral part of culture in general for a long time to come.

For the gamblers of the world, that makes it an essential business for sure.