States flocking to add sportsbooks

States flocking to add sportsbooks

August 29, 2018 3:00 AM


Casino companies of every size have wasted no time pouncing on the opportunity dropped in their laps by the Supreme Court opening the door to legal sports betting across the country.

It is a marketing opportunity, a chance for companies to get to know potential customers before they reach Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Reno or wherever.

It is this opportunity to reach potential big spenders with discretionary cash burning a hole in their pockets and whet the appetites of this crowd for a full casino resort experience that has executives feverishly calculating likely returns to be earned from sports fans who have a predisposition to gamble.

And make no mistake. Sports fans are known to take their casino action seriously.

The late Dan Chandler, a casino host who specialized in the so-called whales, explained to me the calculus that makes sports and gambling a comfortable marriage for so many. “It’s like French fries and cheeseburger. They just go together,” he shrugged.

That’s why big title fights, Super Bowl weekend and events like March Madness have Las Vegas casinos full of their best customers, a fact that has never been lost on proponents of the business that is now legal in all states should they want to pass legislation and participate. And a lot of them do want to get involved. There are about half a new dozen books in operation since the high court struck down restrictions.

The number has been increasing monthly as state legislatures put the regulatory process and taxation plans in place and companies assess it all and decide there is a business opportunity.

New York gets a lot of attention but the interested parties there are not yet on the same page or so it seems. Tribal casinos in the northern part of the state have recently been opposed to the mobility that is popular, arguing a customer in one casino could use a cell phone to place a bet in another casino.

It doesn’t seem right. So the argument seems to go.

Las Vegas bookmaker Vic Salerno says close to 50 percent of the wagers in Nevada are made using the convenience of mobile apps. I’m guessing the volume of action handled by Silver State books would be much less than it is if someone with money in hand was required to drive perhaps many miles to a casino and then stand in line.

When I arrived in Las Vegas in 1978 most casinos did not have books. But they do now as the bosses kept their eyes on the bouncing ball, the importance of a finely tuned customer service experience.

Don’t forget books have a relative hold when all goes well of about 4-5 percent but their customers spend elsewhere.

Why let a customer walk to your nearby neighbor, a free-standing book – and most of were in the late 1970s – if you can keep him at your place by opening a sportsbook? It was an obvious answer.

And so casinos everywhere are coming to the same conclusion. Caesars Entertainment is opening a sportsbook at its Harrah’s Gulf Coast in Mississippi this week. It was made possible by the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. PASPA had made sports wagering a uniquely Nevada business. Penn National is also opening multiple parlors by week’s end.

How soon will this wave of legal wagering put a dent in the illegal action that appears to thrive? If estimates of the volume of illegal business in 2017 are correct there was about $2.5 billion in bets placed with unlicensed bookies, all of which produced nothing in taxes.

The marketing opportunity in Nevada – maybe it is a challenge – is to restore the bright gleam of uniqueness to a business that has lost that uniqueness. They don’t want to become a face in the crowd. Bookmakers and their spokesmen met recently with the Gaming Control Board with that in mind.

One of the most intriguing proposals would permit election bets but this will require legislative action and no one is inclined to speculate now. The results of the November election may offer a clearer picture. By then there will be a new governor and committee assignments will have been shuffled.