In A Regulated U.S. Sports Betting Market, Which Operator Will Be King?By Robert H. Mann | Published: March 7, 2018 at 9:00 am
As the sports betting world, the entire world that is, awaits the U.S. Supreme Court decision that is expected to lead to an expansion of Nevada-style sports betting nationally, let’s handicap the future.
It’s a precarious endeavor, but let’s speculate on what bookmakers will be leading a veritable and immediate land rush in New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Iowa and as many as 15 other states toward what many believe could be untold riches — and others believe a revenue source that’s only a mirage.
Who are the major players? What moves will they make to gain a foothold in this emerging market? Let’s make this future book partly a horse race, because there will be some “purse money” for place and show and partly sports future book because the lower the odds, the more successful this observer believes their sportsbook operation will be. A bookmaking company may still access significant revenue without being the largest if that company can gain a foothold by achieving a favorable revenue split with an individual state, and being able to access continued growth through a combination of a physical and online presence.
Having the biggest wagering operation in this future book may not necessarily earn a particular company the biggest profits, but reasonable state regulations and shrewd bookmaking will. A key element could be explaining to various state lawmakers that some of the proposed exorbitant revenue splits between the federal government, the individual state government, the various leagues and the bookmaking operator cannot possibly spawn a successful industry. The company that can make that message understood will be the most successful.
If Legal Sports Betting Expands Across the U.S., Which Sportsbook Operator Will Reign Supreme?: Handicapping the Field
William Hill: 3/1
This UK-based bookmaker has had a major presence in the U.S. since 2012 when it gobbled up a trio of Nevada operators. The company has expanded in the state ever since. William Hill employs about 17,000 people worldwide, according to their website and serves as the exclusive risk manager for the State of Delaware’s Sports Lottery. The chief of the company’s stateside operations is Joe Asher, who is well connected in New Jersey and Delaware and has had William Hill poised and ready to move quickly should he get the legal go ahead from Washington. Asher has the know-how, the infrastructure and the political savvy to be first out of the gate in the race for success. William Hill’s gate speed, staying power and commercial relationship with Scientific Games, the company that recently acquired the “Open Bet” sports wagering platform, makes them the favorite. In recent years, Asher and his deputies have been familiar faces at sports wagering industry conferences worldwide, including testifying at various state legislative hearings, and are well known in locales beyond Nevada.
Caesars Entertainment: 8/1
While lacking an aggressive profile in Nevada in recent years, the company already has a major foothold in numerous states where sports betting legislation has crossed or is nearing the finish line. Because Caesars already has licensed brick-and-mortar casinos, theoretically they might be able to start taking sports wagers as quickly as anyone else. However, the company lacks the online sports profile many competitors have and the recent financial difficulties the company has experienced would certainly stop them from allowing any serious financial exposure when it comes to sports betting. The company, although very different than it was when it stood for luxury on the Las Vegas Strip, has name recognition, a brand name if you will, that is unmatched nationally.
MGM Resorts International: 8/1
CEO and Chairman Jim Murren has said recently his company will move quickly to establish sports betting at its U.S. operations, headed by The Borgata in Atlantic City, MGM National Harbor in Maryland, near Washington D.C., and the soon-to-open MGM Springfield in Massachusetts. It’s a huge company, the biggest employer in Nevada, with a major worldwide profile. If they are seeking to operate sportsbooks in properties they don’t own or run, there’s been no word of it. However, that’s not to say there have not been some unpublished workouts, meaning behind-the-scenes maneuvering that would allow MGM to expand beyond its own properties.
Paddy Power Betfair: 10/1
The Irish bookmaker, now often called PPB, already has a somewhat under-the-radar presence in the U.S. as the owner of TVG, the horse racing television network and advance deposit wagering service that goes along with it. They also own DRAFT, a more recent purchase, that’s the distant third place company to DraftKings and FanDuel in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) marketplace. The company, a worldwide betting juggernaut like William Hill, is known internationally for some of the best sports wagering software. When the company purchased DRAFT, industry observers noted that the high purchase price was paid because the U.S.-based company would become a “placeholder” until the expected legalization of U.S. sports betting. PPB has front-end speed and staying power. Others interested in becoming major players as various states move to form sports betting alliances with various companies would be smart not to underestimate PPB.
Penn National: 15/1
Soon to be, after acquisitions are approved, the largest regional casino company in the U.S., Penn has its racetrack/casino operations in addition to numerous regional casino-only sites that they own and/or operate. Oddly, they do not run the sportsbooks at their Nevada casino/resorts, M Resort and the Tropicana, where they collect guaranteed rent payments from CG Technology, formerly known as Cantor Gaming. Penn inherited the relationship with CG when they bought the two Las Vegas-area properties, but might naturally consider expanding it throughout the U.S. CG has incurred some stiff fines for regulatory breakdowns in Nevada, but should never be underestimated for its deep pockets, ability to envision the future and extremely competent mid-level executives. Penn could very well need CG more than CG needs Penn. Penn will look good in the post parade if the team with the right sports betting technology joins them and could be very powerful in the stretch.
CG helped reinvent sports betting in Nevada with new ideas and a willingness to employ “out of the box” techniques, some successful and some less so. For example, CG’s efforts pushed Nevada regulators to allow sports bettors to band together into a type of mutual betting fund modeled after those often seen on Wall Street. The concept hasn’t been especially successful in Nevada due to overregulation and other issues, but it’s the kind of new ideas in the sports wagering world that need to be attempted, even if they are not especially successful.
Another significant regional casino operator with racetrack properties and as much sports betting knowledge as anyone else in this race, Boyd is another company that could place pop-up sports books in numerous venues. Although the Stardust name is largely mothballed presently, it was synonymous with sports betting in Nevada for decades. The company has a history of innovation that cannot be discounted. Like Caesars, they don’t need any partners to get up and running in Louisiana, Kansas, Iowa and elsewhere. It’s a budget-conscious company with the know how to make the most out of the small margins in sports wagering. If the numbers in a deal don’t work, they do not make the deal. The company’s Southern Nevada sports books rival anyone’s.
Although continuing to be separate companies after their merger attempt failed, some look for another marriage effort because in a U.S. market with national single-game sports wagering, monopoly concerns would disappear. The extensive database of customers and the recent appointment of a sportsbook director by DraftKings is a move toward becoming a major player. However, without any physical locations, it will be hard for online only companies to win this race. As individual states set up sports betting rules, many are looking to begin licensure through brick-and-mortar properties, allowing mobile components to flow through those establishments and their partners. The two major DFS companies would need a partner such as a casino company or a racetrack to gain traction.
The deals that have created one of the world’s biggest gambling groups is likely to utilize the Ladbrokes name, dating from 1902, for a possible foray into the U.S. sports wagering market.
They have the biggest share of the betting market in the UK, Germany and Italy, with large operations in Australia but remain largely unknown in the U.S. Despite this, based on sheer bulk alone, it would be foolish to overlook the possibility that the company could become a major player.
Churchill Downs Inc.: 30/1
Recent purchaser of Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie, Pennsylvania and the Lady Luck Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the company is now more a regional casino operator than racetrack concern. Industry speculation is that the move is part of plan to be ready to take complete advantage of the states’ expanded gambling options including sports wagering. The company already has a major online presence with its twinspires.com online horse wagering outlet that could be quickly expanded to include sports wagering. The company could be a player as it continues to make moves to expand beyond its home state of Kentucky and its iconic Kentucky Derby brand name.
Golden Entertainment: 40/1
The rapidly expanding Nevada-based tavern operator, slot route operator and casino owner is my sleeper play and, if this were more than a speculative exercise, certainly worthy of a few bucks on the nose. Golden recently bought four Southern Nevada casinos, joining several small operations in the area, but these smaller casinos were not in metro Las Vegas. Tavern operations and sports wagering is a perfect fit and if states outside of Nevada allow more synergy between the two than the company has locally, the business just might take off. Company management has a solid eye on future growth and if it makes the right moves, such as using the best technology and achieves the right alliances, it would create a force that the bigger players won’t be able to ignore. If any state requires a brick-and-mortar element to sports betting, taverns could provide it, especially in areas far away from casinos. Golden has the expertise for both.
USFantasy is a pari-mutuel sports betting concept and its companion, USBookmaking, is a traditional operation. Both are the brainchild of Vic Salerno, a Nevada sports betting pioneer. The pari-mutuel path would work ideally because there’s no risk involved and industry stakeholders would simply establish a take-out percentage and divvy it up. The idea of no risk of losses should be more appealing to potential books, but many remain unconvinced what works so perfectly for horses can translate to sports. However, Salerno is another player who, because of his monumental past accomplishments and vision of the future (he developed the first mobile sports betting app in the U.S.) can only be discounted at great risk. His past performance lines remain impeccable.
The Field: 50-1
There’s certainly a possibility of other players gaining significant market share. Generally sports betting exposure can be limited by having action balanced by a wide variety of players, both big (often called “sharps”) and small (sometimes called “squares”). Thus, a smaller operator usually has harder time balancing the action when compared to the bigger books. Some of those in the field are big in Nevada, but may not seek the national market more easily accessible to the bigger players.
Station Casinos, Las Vegas’ largest locals group and South Point fall into the field for this reason despite, along with Boyd, being among the major Nevada sports book operators. Station’s sportsbook chief Art Manteris is a sharp and extremely successful bookmaker and has openly advocated a measured approach to national sports betting. They will move into the national arena, perhaps in alliance with Native American operators, only after the dust has settled and only where financial risk in minimal. South Point, a Southern Nevada bookmaking powerhouse, is unlikely to become a national player because it has no national partners right now, but could quickly form an alliance with any sports book operator outside of Nevada based on its sterling reputation alone. Wynn Resorts has other fish to fry at this moment and although perfectly capable, may be unable achieve traction anywhere but Massachusetts, where they are soon to open a spectacular casino/resort near Boston.
Finally, let’s toss in some companies that have little or nothing to do with sports betting right now such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and any other communications company you can name. These big corporations have enough ready cash to get involved simply by buying up a fringe tech company and put their big tech expertise behind the move. The tech big boys could easily throw in with one of the popular worldwide poker and online casino operators such as Canadian-based operator Amaya and its PokerStars brand, 888 or an alphabet soup of others. Our field of others might certainly be worth a saver bet to hit the finish line first.
Success in the realm of national sports wagering is wide open and difficult to handicap. It will be exciting to see what happens.
Robert H. Mann, a 30-year resident of Las Vegas, is the industry writer and columnist for Gaming Today newspaper and gamingtoday.com. His opinions are his own and may not reflect those of SportsHandle.com.
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