Circa Ready at the Jump to Compete in Kentucky’s Sports Betting Market

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LAS VEGAS — Among the nine sportsbooks approved this week in Kentucky is Circa Sports, the Las Vegas-based operator that has climbed to as high as third in market share in Nevada but finds itself on a different competitive landscape in other states.

Kentucky, though, affords Circa the chance to be among the first sportsbooks ready to take bets when the state’s online sports betting market launches on Sept. 28.

While Circa owner Derek Stevens downplays the importance of being in jurisdictions from the jump, he likes his company’s first-mover position in the Bluegrass State.

“I’m not one that has been overly gung-ho about launch,” Stevens told Gaming Today at the unveiling of the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame at Circa Resort & Casino in downtown Las Vegas earlier this month. “What we’ve seen in some states is a number of [operators] really go a little over the top with marketing expenses. I don’t mind going in a little later. I’m not a guy that says, ‘Circa Sports has to be there at launch.’

“I’m excited about that for Kentucky. But with what our product is like and what we do, I’m very happy [in other states] to go in a year or two late.”

Derek Stevens likes Circa's first-mover position in Kentucky sports betting.
Circa owner Derek Stevens at the unveiling of the Sports Gambling Hall of Game (Marcus DiNitto/Gaming Today)

Circa is also live in Colorado and Iowa and anticipates launching in Illinois this fall.

To Jay Kornegay, VP of Race & Sports Operations at the SuperBook – which, like Circa, has expanded its operations beyond Nevada – opening for business on the day of Ohio’s launch has been key in carving out market share. The SuperBook’s timing was less fortuitous in other states.

“To make headway in a state that’s already been offering sports gaming, months ago or a year ago or a year and a half ago, it was tough to make a footprint in that particular jurisdiction when most of the bettors already had accounts,” Kornegay said when we sat down at his office at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort.

Launching in Ohio on Jan. 1 “was a big difference,” Kornegay added, “and we saw it from the very beginning. It’s like, ‘Wow, look at the difference between launching at the initial point of legalization versus entering a state that’s already been established.’”

How It’s Going for Circa in Iowa

In FY 2023 ended June 30, Circa’s share of Iowa’s online sports betting market was 0.9% of handle, according to the state’s sports betting revenue reports. Of the $2.024 billion wagered in the state during that period, Circa wrote $18.59 million of the bets.

That may look like a small slice of the pie, but Circa ranks behind only gambling behemoths with massive marketing budgets — DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars, BetMGM, Penn, BetRivers, and PointsBet. Of the 21 sportsbooks listed on Iowa’s most recent sports betting revenue report, Circa finished the FY seventh in handle, ahead of BetFred, Hard Rock, and 13 others.

The operator is gaining traction there, too. Circa debuted in the Hawkeye State in October 2021 (three months into FY 2022) and booked just $7.9 million in handle during that fiscal year.

While it’s holding its own in Iowa, Circa’s entry into that market came more than two years after online sports betting went live in the state. Kentucky is a different story

How Much Market Share Do These Books Need?

Industry analyst Chris Grove of Eilers & Krejcik told Gaming Today’s Rebecca Hanchett that Kentucky figures to shape up like other states, with five or six giants dominating the sports betting space.

“Low single-digit market share appears to be what’s available for the challenger brands,” Grove said.

While operators are rarely forthcoming about the market share they’re targeting, and Stevens and Kornegay both stressed that each state is different, companies like Circa and SuperBook don’t need as much handle as competitors that are spending hand-over-fist to acquire customers.

“We are the tortoise just moving along,” Kornegay said. “We are not in a hurry. We’re in for the long run, and we don’t need to dive into the deep end. We can go into the shallow end, and earn our customer’s respect and loyalty by the service and the offerings that we have.”

The Vegas Difference

Circa has built a reputation as a sportsbook that takes all comers. While most of the sports betting market leaders do not welcome sharp action, Circa’s bookmaking model is based on it. The book accepts six-figure bets on NFL Sundays, for example, from anyone who wants to place them, including pro gamblers.

Then, there’s a domino effect, as aspiring recreational bettors also flock to Circa – they want to play where the pros do. After all, what avid poker player wouldn’t want the chance to sit down with Phil Ivey?

The model is working in Nevada (although Circa’s jewel of a property in downtown Las Vegas certainly helps, too), where Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimates that the book’s 11.6% market share (from May 2022 to May 2023) ranks third behind only Caesars/William Hill and BetMGM (via Nevada Independent).

But is the model effective in other states?

“One of the most important things to remember is that bettors need to have multiple options in whatever jurisdiction you live in,” Stevens said. “The way we compete is we bring something a little bit different to the table in Colorado, in Iowa, and certainly we will in Illinois when we get there, and in Kentucky when we get there. It really comes down to differentiating a little bit, and I think that’s where we’ve developed our own little niche.”

There’s a school of thought that US bettors will eventually wisen up to pricing. Consumers are price-sensitive about pretty much everything; why not betting lines?

“We promote ourselves [in other states] as we have done here [in Nevada] — by our odds, our splits, and our menu and our Vegas experience of operating in the American market,” Kornegay said. “That’s really important that people understand that we have operated in the American market for over 30 years. We know what the American bettor wants, which some others are still trying to figure out.”

More on Kentucky Sports Betting

About the Author
Marcus DiNitto

Marcus DiNitto

Managing Editor, News
Marcus DiNitto was news managing editor of Gaming Today. In past roles, he has been managing editor at national sports websites SportsBusiness Daily, Sporting News, and The Linemakers, as well as with licensed sportsbook operator USA Sports Gaming. Marcus graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earned his MBA from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and studied sports and entertainment marketing at New York University.

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