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The NFL is back, which means so are warm bowls of spicy chili on Sunday afternoons, endless sports talk radio chatter about yet another Tom Brady title defense, and gambling. Lots and lots and lots of legalized, amateur, often-online gambling.

And as sports betters lay wagers on Patrick Mahomes' passing yards or Monday Night Football over/unders, investors are betting big on the platforms that take the bets. As the NFL season kicks off, shares in DraftKings, Penn National Gaming, and Caesars Entertainment have skyrocketed. We'll call that betting on the house.

Stone Cold Lock Of The Week?

Six more states have legalized sports betting this year, bringing the grand total to 26 overall. With a record number of Americans having access to online sportsbooks at their literal fingertips, experts project roughly 45.2 million Americans will place more than $12 billion in wagers on this year's slate of NFL games.

In the past three weeks of pre-season anticipation, and in conjunction with the kick-off of NCAA football, DraftKings, Penn National, and Ceasars' shares have each spiked between 10 and 20%.

But the investments only pay out if bet-takers can beat out bet-makers. Here's how they're doing so far:

  • On the NFL's season kickoff Thursday between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys, DraftKing users placed over 1.5 million bets, and won more than $54 million.
  • Overall, experts estimate online sportsbooks and traditional casinos will generate roughly $1.5 billion in revenue in 2021. By 2025, analysts project the total value of wagers placed to reach $180 billion.

Still, buying shares of gambling firms may be a long-term futures bet, with marketing and cost of user acquisition eating into profits. Wall Street analysts caution DraftKings– which spends roughly $371 to acquire each new customer– may not see positive earnings until at least 2024.

The NFL Doubles-Down: After spending decades opposed to sports gambling, the NFL has changed course, hoping that fans with money on the line may be more likely to tune into games. In 2021, the league will finally allow sportsbooks to buy ad time during broadcasts. The industry has already sunk millions into luring first-time users. But when the house bets on itself, it tends to payout. DraftKings estimates the average lifetime value of each user at $2,500.