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EAST ST. LOUIS – As the NFL kicked off, so did football sports betting in the Metro East.

“It’s been highly anticipated, and the numbers were through the roof,” said Johnny Avello, DraftKings Director of Race and Sports Operations.

DraftKings operates a retail location inside Casino Queen in the Metro East.

Sports bettors told FOX 2/KPLR 11 they saw more activity on football wagers than they saw on baseball and hockey.

“As far as wagering is concerned in Illinois, Illinois was in the top half of all of the states that we have offerings in, so they’ve made a lot of progress in a really short time and we expect bigger things from Illinois,” said Avello.

The first legal sports bet was placed in March 2020, just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“When the first sportsbook opened here in time for March Madness, all sports shut down so it’s kind of like this big excitement and then sports goes away and it kind of died down,” said sports bettor Mike Richter.

Despite COVID-19, Avello said DraftKings in-person and app wagers were up this year compared to this same weekend last year.

“The app was also considerably up, so just sportsbook wagering is up for us, COVID, or no COVID, I don’t think it’s going to stop what people really love to do.”

Phil Maroon placed the first sports bet at Draft Kings inside Casino Queen in August. He also betted on the NFL over the weekend.

“It was a really cool experience, I love sports betting, it’s something I take a lot of time with and spend a lot of time on,” said Maroon. “It’s definitely going to bring tax money in, sports betting is huge, we’re talking millions if not billions of dollars in these sportsbooks.”

Some bettors in Illinois said sports betting in Illinois brings the Vegas experience just 10 minutes away from downtown St. Louis.

“NFL is always a big fish and especially with the limited amount of things you can watch on TV and sports, the people have been craving and with all the promotions the books have been running you can see there was definitely more people joining,” said Richter. “Some of the sites had technical difficulties because their servers got overloaded and we weren’t having that when we were betting on baseball and hockey over the last couple of weeks, so you could see that there is more influx.”

Missourians can cross the river into Illinois to bet on sports, but despite multiple sports betting bills introduced in Missouri, it is not legal.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns will kick off Thursday Night Football bringing the second week of legal NFL betting to the Metro East.