Rob Norton, President of Cordish Gaming Group and Live! Casino, understands that mobile wagering is going to be the way a large portion of sports betting goes when Maryland eventually launches and joins neighboring states West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania in offering the digital format.
Norton is also confident, however, that Sports & Social — where Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland houses a FanDuel Sportsbook — will be a premier mid-Atlantic destination following a promising December launch where the venue situated between Baltimore and Washington D.C., was packed with bettors.
“There’s no doubt across the country that mobile has become the lion’s share of sports wagering activity in states where they offer retail and mobile options to customers,” Norton said in a phone interview with Sports Handle. “But … in all of the states that have gone through this, there seems to still be a very, very meaningful part of the business that enjoys going to a retail book.”
Live!, which has partnered with FanDuel for sports wagering in Maryland, emerged as an early frontrunner in the state’s first revenue report. The retail book generated $7.1 million in wagers, accounting for nearly half the state’s $16.5 million handle, and was the only one of the five conducting business in December that surpassed $1 million in revenue.
Prime location on the outside and inside
The physical location of the Live! casino is well situated to draw business from a multitude of surrounding areas. Virginia currently has only digital sports betting rather than casinos, and the nation’s capital has what could best be best described as zones of both retail and mobile wagering.
Within the Live! property itself, the central location of the sportsbook and Sports & Social’s viewing, dining, and drinking area is by design to help create what Norton calls a “holistic entertainment experience around sports betting.”
“A lot of folks put the sportsbook upstairs, off to the side, or in a different location. We see it as an energy creator for bringing traffic into the facility,” he said. “What we did in general was that there are a lot of what I call ‘punters’ that are only going to be in here for sports betting, but there’s a lot of folks, some I consider friends, that they’re social sports bettors.
“They’re going to come in, they’re going to take part and have a beer, some great food, put a bet or two down. They’re going to take part in those in-game parlays, but they’re also going to spend a couple of minutes at the blackjack table and some of the other things we offer. For us, it’s about creating the total entertainment experience.”
The key selling points are the 100-foot media wall of LED screens, dining options, and expansive seating to watch games. Norton pointed out the stadium-style seating has been a popular draw, putting a focus for patrons on the entertainment aspect that goes hand-in-hand with sports wagering.
“We actually activate it like a stadium during games. When you’re watching the featured game, you get a lot of the same stadium energy going on in the room,” Norton said. “Our secret sauce, if you will, is creating a real entertainment viewing experience beyond just the betting, and you add the betting on top of it and it takes it to a whole other level.
“At the end of the day, I feel pretty confident in our ability to continue to produce and have a great retail sportsbook that will be unmatched — you won’t be able to get that online.”
Partnering with FanDuel, adjusting on the fly
With an unknown timetable regarding Maryland’s mobile launch — some are predicting it will not take place until the fall — the emphasis on the patron’s gaming experience is understandable. Unlike Illinois, which allowed smartphone users to load their picks onto QR codes they could bring to a self-serve kiosk or a ticket writer upon launch in March 2020, Maryland bettors do not have that luxury. The state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission has taken what Norton calls an “ultraconservative approach” regarding any type of apps, since there are no regulations currently in place.
This is where the heft of the FanDuel brand served as an advantage for Live! in its opening. Norton jokingly said that during launch he had access to “a small army on site” from the gaming titan, and Live! was further aided by the quick responsiveness of the Maryland State Lottery & Gaming Control Agency.
“This is one of the reasons that we partnered with FanDuel. They are, without a doubt, the market leader and have an incredible amount of resources for training and technical support through the process,” said Norton, who pointed out the training for ticket writers is a weeks-long process. “[FanDuel was] helping with the training, helping with the customers, navigating the new processes. Like having a new craps dealer, there’s a learning curve, and as our ticket writers are getting more experienced, we’re seeing an improved efficiency and speed and confidence, and we’ll continue to see that.
“[The state regulators] have worked with us, understanding it’s a brand new business as we’re trying and adjust and adapt,” Norton added, noting how Live! quickly needed to expand from the original 30 kiosks in place for launch to the now 50 located throughout the casino. “They have been extremely accommodating to our requests and working very diligently with us as regulators and partners to make sure that we’re providing the best sports betting experiences in Maryland that we possibly can. I couldn’t be happier with the level of support we’ve received from them.”
Those extra kiosks have come in handy as FanDuel continues to be the market leader in parlay wagering through its “Same Game Parlay” product, which requires multiple components to be inputted versus a straight bet. Even Norton was surprised by the early interest generated in the product in terms of the percentage of bets it represents as well as the payouts, noting there were “multiple parlays that hit for over $250,000” in total.
Taking on challengers going forward
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With the projected lengthy lag to launching mobile sports wagering, it stands to reason the competition for retail handle in Maryland will only get more intense in the coming months. The Super Bowl — the largest single sports betting event in the calendar year — is weeks away, and the NCAA Tournament figures be a strong draw given the rich collegiate hoops history in the DMV area that will help compensate for a March Madness that could potentially be missing Maryland, Virginia, and Georgetown.
Norton feels the sportsbook at Sports & Social is in a good place right now, but he is always looking for ways to make it better.
“We’re going to continue to modify and adjust. That’s what we do — we don’t ever sit and rest on our laurels, and we work to ensure that we are the best at what we do,” he said. “We will continue to do that and be ready to compete for market share as more competition comes online.
“If you just want to make a sports bet, sooner or later you’re going to find a convenience option online that will satisfy that. But if you’re looking for an experience, you’re going to find no better place than Live! casino.”