Yes, Venmo helps with distributing the costs of beer and funding mid-game snack runs during the Super Bowl. But as far as exchanging money goes, social media reveals this is not the extent of Venmo transactions on this day — users also collect pool bets and other wagers on the big game through the service. In the olden days, a paper grid and cash money mercifully kept the technically illegal transactions off the record (even if it was casually discussed in every workplace). Now, a cursory check of Twitter reveals new systems that lay everything out for the Internet to see: Google Forms, Google Docs, carefully-photoshopped digital square boards, and of course, Venmo.
Exactly two years ago, Venmo, the peer-to-peer payment app loved by drug-purchasers and bill-splitters alike, went down in the aftermath of Super Bowl 50, when the favored Carolina Panthers lost to the Denver Broncos. People had to wait minutes, if not hours, to send payments, and boy were they mad.
Venmo was vague about the whole affair, and attributed the disruption to “high volume.” However, according to two Venmo employees who spoke to The Outline on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions with their employer, Super Bowl Sunday is Venmo’s highest-traffic day of the year, and the crash was likely caused by a record-setting amount of user activity.
Still have a Super Bowl squares board I need to fill out by tonight. (Game of chance) 2 squares for $5. Accepting Venmo if interested.— Jake Kowalski (@JAC0B_K) February 4, 2018
Super Bowl MAX's are in! We have a MAX (3x) & Mega-MAX (4x) get both for $20 or each for $15 via PayPal or Venmo. DM for more information.— Belly Up Betting (@BellyUpBetting) February 4, 2018
One (now deleted) tweet invited users to respond to a Google Form with their Super Bowl predictions and Venmo the creator $5 for entry into the betting pool. (Please note the third question: “Will Pink say ‘Eagles’ before/during/after the Anthem?”) Another included a link to a Super Bowl squares board painstakingly designed in Google Docs and implored users to send user @Keith-Powers-4 $25 per square in order to join.
“Venmo is a big source [of betting traffic] for sure, whether it be a friendly bet or someone wanting to access the edge,” said John Anthony over Twitter DM. Anthony runs @SharpSportsINC, a popular Twitter account that helps facilitate sports-related bets through Venmo. To say this practice is technically frowned upon would be an understatement. Most pen-and-paper Super Bowl bets are illegal — federal law prohibits full-scale sports betting in all states other than Nevada — and people are explicitly prohibited from using Venmo for gambling. (Social gambling is legal in some states, which sometimes but not always includes wagers like office betting pools).
Regardless, Venmo seems to have steadily gained popularity in the casual sports betting world over the last two years. Anthony attributes that to the app’s general ubiquity. “It’s def more casual or considered normal,” he explained. “I mean people pay for everything via Venmo, it seems like, at the age bracket from 18-mid 20’s.” That is to say, sending someone twenty bucks through Venmo after filling out a nicely designed Google Form may seem less ridiculous than throwing down a $20 after scratching out some bets in your friend’s-uncle’s-brother’s cheeto-stained notebook, but it’s just as risky.
“Given the Super Bowl is one of the biggest social events of the year, Super Bowl Sunday is one of Venmo’s biggest payment days of the year,” Venmo spokesperson Josh Criscoe told The Outline. “To ensure a positive experience for people using Venmo, members of the Venmo team get together to watch the game and monitor systems to make sure no payments are fumbled.”