As I know from my work in economics, there are better ways to make estimates than pulling numbers out of thin air.

The first thing you do in such cases is look for a real-world example. In this case, data from the U.K., which has allowed sports gambling for decades, with thousands of betting parlors offering odds on everything from Premier League matches to when royal babies are born.

The U.K.’s Gambling Commission tracks betting statistics and issues an annual report. The one released in January shows that Brits placed about 10 billion pounds in bets in the latest fiscal year.

To get a comparable estimate for the U.S., that figure needs to be adjusted by population and currency. The U.K. has only about 66 million people, compared with 327 million in the U.S. And the pound was worth $1.36 on May 14.

After making both adjustments, this suggests that if people in the U.S. are allowed to make bets at the same rate as in the U.K., the size of the industry would be about $67 billion a year. While enormous, that’s a far cry from $150 billion.

Will legal sports gambling be big business? Yes, but not as big as its proponents want you to believe.

Commentary by Jay L. Zagorsky, an Economist and Research Scientist at The Ohio State University. He is also a contributor at The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. Follow him on Twitter @prof_jay_z.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow
@CNBCopinion
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