Scott Butera vividly recalls his exact location last spring when the Supreme Court transformed the course of global sports gambling by declaring a decades-old federal law unconstitutional.
Weeks after the High Court overturned the 1992 federal ban, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), Butera joined MGM Resorts International last June as the company’s president of interactive gaming. Butera, who previously served as commissioner of the Arena Football League, has played a vital role in MGM’s rapid expansion of its sports betting operations.
Over the last 10 months, MGM has become official sports betting partners with the NBA, MLB and NHL and has launched an innovative joint venture with British betting group GVC Holdings plc. Recently, Butera and Sports Handle discussed some of the most significant changes in the marketplace with Butera including the possibility that more than 20 U.S. states could offer legalized sports betting over the next few years.
The following interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Sports Handle (SH): Over the last year since the High Court’s historic decision, the legal U.S. sports betting market has developed at a breakneck pace. What stands out for you the most in how the new ecosystem for sports gambling has come together in a span of only 12 months?
Scott Butera (SB): I think the obvious thing has just been how tremendous the response has been to sports betting. I think because of the state-by-state approach, the implementation is probably taking a little bit longer than everyone expected, although we’re starting to see quite a bit of momentum now. Where it has gone live and gone live with the appropriate model it has shown just how effective it can be. You look out on the landscape and you look at numbers like almost $8 billion being wagered since PASPA’s been overturned, with around $3 billion of that being from states outside Nevada it’s just an early indicator that this is going to have a powerful impact.
It’s also going to have a powerful impact across many different disciplines. Obviously, the teams benefit because they get increased viewership which leads to increased advertising revenue and sponsorship. The players benefit. It has created a whole wave of technology to enhance viewership, which can enhance sports betting whether it be performance based or wearable technology, data delivery technology or video streaming technology. Obviously, it has created a lot of work for lobbyists and politicians in various jurisdictions. It has just impacted so many different industries and I think we’re really at the start.
All of a sudden now you’re seeing a huge wave in media with almost every network now having a sports betting channel. You might have seen the latest deals being done between operators and media providers, I think you’re going to see more of that. It’s been huge and it’s just in its infancy.
SH: There are numerous jurisdictions beyond Nevada and New Jersey in states where MGM has properties, highlighted by MGM Springfield, MGM Grand Detroit, MGM National Harbor, Yonkers Raceway & Empire City Casino and a few others. What is the likelihood that states where those properties are located could legalize in the next year and how well-positioned is MGM if those states do legalize?
SB: I would say it is very likely that a few of them legalize and I think within two years hopefully you will see all of them legalize. I think we’re in great shape, we participate in a very large way both with the retail side and with an online presence. We have what we think are state-of-the-art properties, we are building sportsbooks/bars, sports betting entertainment centers within those facilities in preparation for those laws passing. We feel really good about the prospects of those, hopefully Michigan is soon to come.
We’ve been doing a lot of work in Massachusetts, New York might take a little longer but there is activity in the D.C. area between D.C., Maryland and Virginia. We’ll be live in Indiana and Iowa, we think Ohio will come online pretty soon. In the last three or four months, we’ve seen a step up in activity among the states in that mid-Atlantic, Eastern, Midwestern region which we are really well-positioned because of the strength of our assets right now.
SH: You touched upon some of the technological innovations being introduced to the industry with wearables, biometric data and other cutting edge developments. With MGM’s partnership with Major League Baseball and the advances in Statcast, what are the chances that MGM could offer exotic props on the exit velocity on a Giancarlo Stanton hit or the distance of a Cody Bellinger homer over the next few months?
SB: Over the next few months it’s very unlikely, but if you look at over the next year or so I think it would become very likely. Those type of stats enhance your viewership which makes you want to watch more; people who want to watch more, bet more. Secondly, it makes you a smarter bettor. If you know that somebody has a higher exit velocity on their swing than another batter you might be more inclined to make a prop bet that so and so will hit more home runs because he has better mechanics. It enhances your betting on other types of prop bets.
Ultimately, you will be able to bet on things like who will throw the fastest fastball and who will hit the furthest. But to do that the technology has to be field tested. It would have to pass all the regulatory measures and would take a little longer just proving out the accuracy of it to the point where you can actually bet on it. It’s definitely where the future is.
SH: Last week, FOX made waves with its minority acquisition of The Stars Group that will likely pave the way for the debut of FOX Bet in the fall. How much has MGM entertained the possibility of aligning with a broadcast network as part of a similar initiative?
SB: We very much believe in doing something of scale on the media side whether it be a network or a station where we control the content a little more. It’s all been under evaluation. We believe in media, we think the media is where you can do well now. We think we have content to offer that goes well beyond just sports betting. It can be sports betting coupled with an entertainment product, coupled maybe with a food and beverage product…We’re in the process in deciding which way we want to go with that but I think we will be a player in media in the near term.
SH: What is your prediction for where the U.S. legalized sports betting market is headed over the next year?
SB: I think it is going to continue to grow dramatically. I think over the next couple years you’ll hopefully see 20 some-odd states fully engaged in sports betting. I think the trend toward mobile is going to continue. I think you’re going to see really enhanced product with not only the number of prop bets but the entertainment associated with them whether it be with video clips, highlights, etc.
I think you are going to see sports betting combine into one great social, entertainment type experience and that will manifest itself online and manifest itself at arenas and stadiums. It will manifest itself in sportsbooks, it will be in bars — anywhere where sports is a component of entertainment I think you’re going to see a whole wave of sports betting entertainment related content enhanced through technology. It will be pretty interesting to see where we will be one year from now.