If you checked your Venmo feed last Sunday between 6pm and midnight, you might have noticed that it was awash with Super Bowl-related transactions, from the semi-innocuous "tom brady is bad bye!!!!!!!!!,” to the more, uh, sus "Rigging the Super Bowl.” Venmo told The Outline Sunday in no uncertain terms that gambling on sports through Venmo is not only broadly illegal in most places in the US, but against the company's terms of service. According to research done by The Outline using the transaction data available through Venmo’s public API, on average 44 percent of Sunday night's transactions included messages with Super-Bowl-related terms and 14 percent directly referenced gambling.
All Venmo transactions require a message of some sort, and they’re generally pretty transparent. Inspired in part by Vicemo — the website that provides a comprehensive list of every public Venmo transaction accompanied by a vice-related message (like, a bunch of tree emojis, “drank,” “drugs,” or, of course, the ever popular “drugz”) — I sampled transactions for the messages listed in Venmo’s public API against a variety of Super Bowl keywords (“football,” “Super Bowl,” “fucktomb,” etc.) and gambling-related keywords (“squares,” “prop,” or “bet,” as in, “In hindsight, maybe betting the mortgage on the Patriots wasn’t the best idea”) keywords in order to get a rough estimate of the number of people who used Venmo for possibly illegal purposes last night.
Based on my research, there were about 139,500 Venmo transactions occurring per hour, which evens out to approximately 837,100 Venmo transactions over the course of the evening. Forty-four percent of these transactions were obviously related to the Super Bowl in some way, and at its peak in the minutes after the game ended, 14 percent of transactions explicitly referenced gambling (i.e. "Refund for super bowl squares,” “illegal super bowl gambling”), with an 8 percent average overall.
I’m guessing (hoping?) that a sizable portion of Super Bowl Sunday betters were a little less conspicuous with their payments. Regardless, there was likely anywhere from 65,000 to 370,000 Super Bowl gambling-related transactions on Venmo Sunday night. This is all, mind you, illegal in most states and totally against Venmo’s Terms of Service.
Despite the fact that Venmo staffed its HQ specifically for this event, the app still experienced a considerable amount of lag directly after the big game. Lots of users took to Twitter to point the finger at gamblers, who they alleged had overwhelmed the app with Super Bowl-related payouts.
Why is Venmo so slow? Is it because everyone is using it to pay off lost bets?— Caleb Kaslik (@calebkaz96) February 5, 2018
My entire Venmo timeline is people losing money on the Super Bowl.— Jack Falahee (@RestingPlatypus) February 5, 2018
While the Super Bowl is Venmo’s biggest day of the year, it’s certainly not the only day its users appear to gamble: An analysis by Quartz in 2017 showed that up to a third of the transactions on the whole service appeared to be gambling-related on the morning of the first March Madness game. Venmo did not respond to a request for comment.