Could Basketball Be Most Popular Sport To Bet On In Minnesota?

Written By Adam Hensley on February 29, 2024 - Last Updated on March 4, 2024
Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards

Minnesota has yet to legalize sports betting, but if it does, there’s a chance basketball could be the most popular sport to bet on in the state.

Right now, the Minnesota sports community has all its eyes on the Timberwolves, one of the best teams in the NBA.

The T-wolves will soon make their third playoff appearance in as many years. With a roster featuring Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, the team’s potential is sky-high. Minnesota boasts an exciting brand of basketball that features one of the best defensive units in the league.

Despite football being the most popular sport to bet on nationwide, basketball could be the brightest star in the North Star State if Minnesota legalizes sports betting.

Where Minnesota sports betting currently stands

There are three sports betting bills in play at the moment: Senate File 1949, House File 2000 and Senate File 3803 (otherwise known as Minnesota Sports Betting Act 2.0).

The balancing act here is that Minnesota’s tribes play a key role in the state’s legal gambling industry. They’ll need to approve any sports betting bill, as they currently operate Minnesota’s casinos exclusively. The state’s racetracks will also have a say, too, as they’ve jockeyed back-and-forth with the tribes when it comes to what gambling options they can offer their customers.

Minnesota Sports Betting Act 2.0 would give the tribes control over both retail and online sports betting. The tribes could partner with Minnesota’s professional sports teams and racetracks under this bill.

HB 2000 recently passed the House Human Services Finance Committee and was re-referred to the State Local Government Finance and Policy Committee. The measure would give tribes exclusive control over both online and retail sports betting.

Under SF 1949, tribes could partner with racetracks on sportsbook operations, but the tribes would still hold the licenses. Racetrack owners seek full licensing privileges.

How does basketball compare to football when it comes to betting?

Across the state, Minnesota residents have several professional sports franchises to cheer for, and potentially bet on in the future:

  • Minnesota Vikings (NFL)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA)
  • Minnesota Wild (NHL)
  • Minnesota Twins (MLB)
  • Minnesota United FC (MLS)

Football – specifically the NFL – is king when it comes to watching sports and betting on them.

In late 2022, CRG Global for Variety Intelligence Platform collected data on which sports were most popular to bet on. 81% of bettors placed at least one wager on an NFL game that year. The NBA was the second-most popular, with 54% of gamblers placing at least one bet on the league.

From a viewership perspective, football is the most dominant sport in the US by far. A 2023 study by Gallup showed that 41% of Americans list football as their favorite sport. The next-closest was basketball at 10%, baseball at 9% and soccer at 5%.

In Minnesota, football is still probably the most popular sport. Residents flock to watch the Minnesota Vikings at the professional level, and college football’s Minnesota Gophers are popular as well.

It’s tough to see which sports are the most popular to vote on in each state because states report data differently. For instance, Colorado does not report betting numbers by sport. But it could provide a blueprint for what a hypothetical Minnesota sports betting market could look like.

Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets share similar makeup

For starters, both NBA organizations in Colorado and Minnesota have to compete with home-state NFL teams. The NFL season reaches its peak right as the NBA season tips off. Nationally, basketball is seemingly an afterthought until after the Super Bowl.

Both the Timberwolves and Nuggets are mid-market NBA teams. Denver and Minneapolis, where the two teams play, are the largest cities in their respective states. Minnesota’s population is around 5.7 million, while Colorado’s is 5.8 million.

Minnesota and Denver are also similar in how they compete in the NBA. Neither are major free agent destinations, but both boast a loyal fan base. As of late, both teams have enjoyed incredible success. Denver won the NBA title in 2023 and boasts two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.

Minnesota has made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons after making the postseason just once in the 17 seasons prior. Edwards is considered a future face of the league and is a must-see player. He’s a major reason for the Timberwolves’ recent successes.

This season, Minnesota leads the Western Conference with a 41-17 record. The Timberwolves are on pace to total the franchise’s most wins in more than two decades and are the frontrunners to land the top seed in the playoffs. Denver sits in third in the Western Conference with a 39-19 record. They could hit the 50-win mark for the second straight season. For nearly a decade before Jokic’s time, the Nuggets remained competitive but failed to win a playoff series.

The Timberwolves still need to prove their regular-season success with a title like the Nuggets did last season. But in terms of recent trajectory, market size and having to compete with an NFL team, these franchises are fairly similar.

Basketball competes with football for top sport to bet on in Colorado

It’s key to look at how these sports perform against each other when their schedules conflict.

During the month of November, professional football saw 24.8% revenue share in Colorado’s sports betting market. Professional basketball followed right behind at 23.6% in that same month.

The following month, pro football led the way with 26.9% of wagers, but pro basketball followed close again, this time at 23.9%.

However, basketball betting takes over when the NFL’s regular season starts to wind down. The Colorado Department of Revenue has not released January 2024’s sports betting numbers, so we must look back to 2023’s figures. But basketball led the way in January 2023 (Week 18 of the NFL season, followed by all rounds of the playoffs) with 32.5% of wagers. Pro football came in second at 22.3%.

It’s worth noting that the Denver Broncos, certainly a historic franchise, are not currently successful. The Broncos have missed the playoffs in eight straight seasons since winning the Super Bowl in 2015. These numbers could change if Denver finds success with head coach Sean Payton and the Broncos are a playoff contender. After all, when hometown football teams perform well, they typically lead the charge in betting.

Could Minnesota sports bettors favor basketball over football?

More than likely, Minnesota bettors will still place more of their money on football. We don’t see Minnesota treading too far off the national trend if the Vikings remain competitive.

But there’s a solid chance that basketball could reach a similar market share in Minnesota as it does in Colorado. If the Vikings struggle, betting on the T-wolves could dominate a Minnesota sports betting market.

If Minnesota legalizes sports betting, don’t be surprised if you see basketball wagers competing closely with football betting.

Photo by AP Photo / Abbie Parr
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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