World Cup 2026 Is Setting Up As A Fail For U.S. Sportsbooks

lionel messi

Best-guess estimates say there was roughly $160 billion legally bet on the World Cup last year. This is courtesy of a Sportradar spokesperson, speaking to Forbes pre-tourney.

Americans were estimated to be “only” responsible for a little more than 1% of that.

20.5 million American adults (8%) plan to bet a total of $1.8 billion on the 2022 FIFA World Cup, according to a survey released today by the @AmericanGaming Association.

— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) November 15, 2022

To compare: Super Bowl betting — both legal and illegal — was probably about 10% of that $160 billion number, according to the American Gaming Association. 

Clearly, the World Cup is a betting bonanza, and will be an even bigger bonanza when it comes to North America in 2026, as the field is expanding to a record 48 teams, up from 32. There will be at least 80 matches — the format may be tinkered with to produce more games — up from last year’s 64.

And at least 60 of those matches will take place in the United States, with another 10 in Canada and 10 in Mexico.

Of course, with the World Cup comes a lot of tourism. Philadelphia, one of 11 host cities, expects more than 500,000 visitors to come to town. Some back-of-the-envelope math would seem to indicate over 5.5 million soccer-mad (football-mad? futbol-mad?) fans will be descending on America to root for — and bet on — their home teams.

Clearly, this is going to be what amounts to a few Super Bowls for America’s legal sportsbooks, as these soccer-crazy fans are sure to want to put down a few bucks on these games.

Except … it won’t be, not unless every state — short of Nevada, which isn’t a host site — changes the rules about who can bet legally in the States.

And it all comes down to a nine-digit number.

Too much social security

“My eyes have been on this ever since the 2026 World Cup was awarded,” Adam Bjorn, the COO of Plannatech and a longtime oddsmaker and sportsbook consultant, told US Bets. “I’ve struggled with Social Security numbers for 20 years.”

Bjorn, a native of Australia, is not a U.S. citizen, and thus does not have a Social Security number. And he notes that, outside of Nevada, you need a Social Security number to sign up for a legal and regulated sportsbook.

The last 9 digits of your Social Security Number are what you need in 2023

— BK_Blue_22 🤝 (@BKBlue22) February 14, 2023

Bjorn is currently in the midst of building out Plannatech’s sports betting solution portfolio, and is already licensed in Ohio and working toward getting licensed in New Jersey. The company has already signed on with the upstart Prime Sports/Out The Gate sportsbook to be their odds originator and backend supplier.

And Bjorn, despite his decades of experience in the sports betting world, can’t bet in America — short of, again, in Nevada. (For the record: I first heard Bjorn mention this on Capt. Jack Andrews’ SuperStream 57, which has turned out to be quite the story generator.)

“If I’m road tripping across New Jersey, I simply have zero betting access because I don’t have a Social Security number,” he said, “And as I’ve been building this platform, understanding this process, it seems counterproductive that if you don’t have a Social Security number, you can’t open an account.”

And come World Cup time …

“It’s a massive miss,” Bjorn said. “All these people traveling in, they won’t be able to bet back home because most of these places have strict VPN rules and all these kinds of things, and so what are they going to do? All of a sudden a lot of money is going out of the system. The black market, the gray market, they can’t wait for this.”

Regulators, assemble!

So can states figure out a way to be like the rest of the gambling world and not demand a Social Security number for non-citizens so they can sign up for legal sports betting?

Short answer is “probably,” but it would take some doing.

“Generally speaking, these specifics aren’t in the statute, they’re in the rules,” said Brandt Iden, current vice president of government affairs for Fanatics and, during his time as a legislator in Michigan, the man responsible for bringing sports betting to that state. “I would think the rule-making bodies — the gambling commissions, the lotteries — could institute some kind of temporary rule to allow for this. Obviously a big question is what kind of ID would be acceptable.”

Iden said — again, speaking in very broad and general terms — the operators themselves would have to go to each state’s gambling commission and make a request to change the rules.

As it stands right now, of the 11 American sites, only four — Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, and East Rutherford, New Jersey — are in states where sports betting has been legalized.

But 2026 is still a lifetime away when it comes to legislative actions, and it’s not exactly far-fetched to think Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Houston, Dallas, St. Louis, and Atlanta will be up and running by then. (Note to legislators in those states: Maybe think about this Social Security thing now.)

“I think it’s a really interesting question, and certainly one worthy of conversation,” Iden said.

As for Bjorn?

“I’ve struggled with this for 20 years,” he said. “The U.S. just ties everything to this number.”

Clearly, America’s sportsbooks should set a — ahem — gooooooooooaaaaaal for themselves to start lobbying for this change by the end of the year. It’s never too early.

Photo: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales