For people of a certain age, the Bally’s name is synonymous with health clubs, pinball machines, and during World War II, airplane parts. Today, you can’t get in a good workout, play Pac-Man or Space Invaders, or fly cross country on much with the Bally’s name. But if you’re into sports betting — or even sports — the name has probably flashed on your radar in recent months.
Beyond the iconic Bally’s Atlantic City Casino in New Jersey and its two Rhode Island casinos, the company has hit the town on what seems to be an open-ended shopping spree. Formerly known as Twin River Worldwide Holdings — which bought the Bally’s brand name and trademarks — the current iteration of Bally’s Corp. has purchased or partnered with Sinclair Media, Tropicana Resort in Las Vegas, Indiana’s Tropicana Evansville, sports betting platform Bet.Works, daily fantasy operator Monkey Knife Fight, and several other iGaming and sports betting technology companies that we all may or may not have heard of. So, what’s the plan?
“This company 10 years ago was a single property making $55 million in cash flow,” Soo Kim, Bally’s chairman of the board since 2019, said in an exclusive interview with Sports Handle in May. “Now we’re going to be making well north of $300 million on the casino side, and we have 16 casinos.”
Kim, the founder, managing partner, and chief investment officer of Standard General L.P., a New York City hedge fund, was appointed as an independent director of Bally’s Corp. in 2016. Standard General is the largest shareholder of Bally’s.
Kim believes that given a little time, the Bally’s name will be a major player in sports betting. The company, he said, is leveraging its brick-and-mortar assets to get a foothold into digital gaming — both sports betting and, in the future, iGaming.
“We’re in a mature business [with land-based casinos],” Kim said. “But we decided the future is online and we needed to disrupt ourselves. There is a future in land-based — there’s an experience, the food, that atmosphere, but online is so much more convenient, ubiquitous.”
Bally’s active in sports betting in 10+ states
The company launched Bally Bet, its first U.S. digital platform, in Colorado on May 24, with plans to launch in Iowa soon. Bally’s currently owns and operates casinos, or has deals to do so, in 11 states. All but one offer legal sports betting. As partner in a casino planned in State College, Pa., Bally’s will have sports betting market access in 10 states — Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Of those states, only Delaware and Mississippi do not allow for mobile/online sports wagering.
Soo Kim, Chairman of Bally’s Corporation’s Board of Directors, said: “Completing our acquisition of https://t.co/mqZLV4lKc4 represents a significant milestone for Bally’s as we continue to embark on our long-term growth and diversification strategy." https://t.co/T3CbLhqbXA
— U.S. Integrity® (@USintegrity) June 2, 2021
To say that Kim is bullish about his company’s prospects would be something of an understatement. Since announcing a partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group last November, Kim sees unlimited potential for his company — and it’s not the same future he saw, say, a year or two ago.
“A lot of companies came to us seeking market access,” Kim said with regards to sports betting after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down in 2018. “What we knew about sports betting to that point was that it wasn’t that profitable, so we wondered why all these companies were stumbling all over each other to get access. We made sure to keep a skin (digital platform) for ourselves because we figured we’d want to have our own.”
Good plan. Because the goal now is for sports and sports betting to intersect and interact in as many different ways as possible.
“You almost can’t watch major sports without seeing Bally’s somewhere,” Kim said.
Bally’s Big Expansion
|11/18/20||Sports betting and iGaming partnership with Sinclair Broadcasting||$88 million|
|12/13/20||Completes acquisition of Eldorado-Shreveport||$140 million|
|2/9/21||Completes acquisition of Irish-based technology company Sports Caller||N/A|
|3/23/21||Completes acquisition of DFS provider Monkey Knife Fight||$90 million|
|4/13/21||Agrees to buy Tropicana on Las Vegas Strip||$150 million|
|4/13/21||Agrees to buy online gaming operator Gamesys||$2.7 billion|
|6/1/21||Completes acquisition of sports betting platform provider Bet.Works||$125 million|
|6/4/21||Completes acquisition of Tropicana-Evansville||$140 million|
Wall Street has had a mostly positive reaction to Bally’s expansion — the stock was trading at $43.55 on Dec. 6, 2020, after the company completed the Sinclair deal and announced the acquisition of Eldorado-Shreveport, and it closed at $55.88 on Monday. Bally’s closed as high at $71.55 on Feb. 12, 2021.
Opportunity others aren’t seeing?
The decision to pursue the Sinclair partnership has opened up what Kim sees as endless possibilities, though Sinclair posted a $3.2 billion loss in the third quarter of 2020 and is on the hook for $1.82 billion in rights fees, according to Awful Announcing. In addition, Sinclair’s RSNs aren’t available on the Dish Network, FuboTV, Hulu, and YouTube TV, meaning it is missing out on reaching huge swaths of potential viewers. But Awful Announcing points to Bally’s as a potential savior. And Kim’s company appears poised to play that role.
“Our combination of gaming and media is pretty unique,” Kim said. “DraftKings has a deal with ESPN and others, but I think think the closest parallel is PointsBet with NBC. But we went all in with one name. I think our approach is just a little more complete.”
“We’re going to try to blur the lines between watching sports and playing along with it. We have that singular ability to do that. I’m not talking about gambling — it could be chat windows, free-to-play games, trivia. … We just want to make viewing sports more engaging.”
Sinclair acquired nearly two dozen Fox Sports-branded RSNs from the Walt Disney Co. in 2019 for about $10 billion. Bally’s subsequently paid $88 million over a 10-year period for the naming rights, which went into effect just before the planned start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season. A handful of RSNs — Bally’s Sports Indiana, Bally’s Sports Detroit, Bally’s Sports Southeast (Tennessee, North Carolina), and Bally’s Sports Midwest (Illinois, Iowa) — are located in jurisdictions with robust sports betting markets.
The test market for Bally’s plan will be Iowa, where Kim said Sinclair owns four TV stations and Bally’s has market access through a partnership with the Elite Grand Falls Casino Resort. While the Colorado launch was strictly about mobile sports betting — Sinclair has no properties in the state — both Iowa and Indiana offer the opportunity to begin experimenting.
“It will be an early market to test run to see what combination of assets we do use,” Kim said of Iowa. “And Indiana will be a huge push because it has the whole picture. … That’s a state where we’ll have more advantages on our side.”
This week's GGB Magazine Podcast features a conversation with Soo Kim, Chairman at Bally's Corp., about his role in one of the most all-encompassing casino brands in the country and how the company continues to evolve with the dynamic market.https://t.co/3EwZquhA1s pic.twitter.com/JCsWxoZZZ2
— Roger Gros (@GlobalGamingBiz) April 26, 2021
The Tropicana Evansville deal went through just last week, and Sinclair owns a regional sports network there. Indiana is also twice as big at Iowa in terms of population and is home to one of the biggest-name college football teams in the nation, Notre Dame. Not to mention the NFL Indianapolis Colts and NBA Indianapolis Pacers.
The play to purchase regional sports networks has raised eyebrows in the industry.
“It’s not clear how the configuration [between the two companies] generates a top-tier sports betting operator,” said Eilers & Krejcik Gaming partner Chris Grove. Regional sports networks, Grove said, have not yet proven to be an “effective or efficient marketing channel.”
Upon the completion of the Bet.Works acquisition June 1, Bally’s created two operating divisions. One segment, Bally’s Interactive, will feature all of Bet.Works’ sports betting operations. Both Monkey Knife Fight and Sportcaller, a B2B free-to-play game provider, will operate under Bally’s Interactive. The other division, Bally’s Casinos, will include the company’s physical gaming and entertainment properties.
Bally’s is the only sports betting company to choose that pathway, while others, including theScore, which has its roots in cable television, chose to divest of similar assets. But Kim and Bally’s are walking to their own beat and believe they’ve created a unique opportunity that others don’t see.
“I feel like there’s a real potential to just run in our own lane here, an open field,” Kim said. “What we’re talking about — interactivity to watch and play — isn’t something that anyone else is doing.”