In Iowa, two different sports betting strategies at work

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They’re both significant players in the national and global sports betting scene, but William Hill and BetMGM couldn’t be more different in their approaches in Iowa if they purposely tried.

This story isn’t an evaluation of success or failure as much as it’s a tale of two strategies within the first Midwest state to legalize sports wagering.

The former company was locked in on the Hawkeye State even before Iowa’s brick-and-mortar locations could launch in the middle of August 2019. William Hill secured arrangements with four of the 18 casinos licensed to take wagers, including in the largest population prize of greater Des Moines. That approach of statewide geographical presence, well before its merger with Caesars Entertainment, bore fruit from the first full month of betting in September 2019 ($21.865 million in handle out of $38.545 million statewide) through the end of 2020 (cumulative December handle was $35.199 million out of $104.815 million statewide).

BetMGM, on the other hand, wasn’t in the Iowa game until Jan. 4, after the state loosened registration restrictions at the start of the year by eliminating the requirement for in-person registration at a licensed casino.

Theoretically speaking, starting up business a year and a half after a major competitor could provide brand recognition challenges. But BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt doesn’t see the situation that way. In an interview last week with Gaming Today, he said the online focus of Iowa’s second launch is a separate entity unto itself.

And success is measured in product quality, aggressive promotions and customer service.

“Our direction of travel is increased personalization, so we want every player to feel like they have the right product and the right offer for them,” Greenblatt said. “We spend a lot of time making sure offers are tailored to the right segment of players. We’re moving in that journey to what are called microsegments, which at the end of that journey is a microsegment of one.”

Said more plainly, the goal is an application that knows your sport or league of choice, your team of choice and even your bet of choice. Once that technology gets zeroed in, the rest of the benefits such as a new way to connect with MGM Resorts’ M life Rewards program will shine through.

“I anticipate that we’re really see the dawn of the (Iowa) market as we go forward (in 2021),” Greenblatt said. “We’ll see adoption of sports betting by a lot of new and relatively inexperienced players. Trust and credibility will be important from the outset.”

William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher is banking on part of that trust and credibility being built-in based on the company’s wide net cast here already. Not resting on its laurels, William Hill has upgraded its app interface for Iowa users within the past weeks to put the experience on par with what Nevada and East Coast users would experience while also adding new bet offerings.

From there, the company likes to think it has a bead on Iowa customers’ intense appetite for college sports and a broadly regional bet spread in professional sports teams. In all, Asher said the clientele in Iowa isn’t all that different from the recreational player base it finds in markets nationwide.

“The bulk of business, even in Nevada, is a recreational client base,” he said. “Sports betting in general is a recreational activity for so many people. Most of America watches, so why not have a few dollars on the game as you watch?

“I think that idea transcends geography. And look, situations everywhere are going to change at some point. The situation in Iowa changed. New Jersey’s situation is going to change at some point, given (New York governor Andrew) Cuomo supporting sports betting in New York. Your product and your produce enhancement will be a big area of growth in the industry over the coming years.”

The personalization aspect crossed into Asher’s mind here, too, and he discussed possibilities of direct connections to streaming content as part of the betting experience, particularly in niche sports and markets. Getting sports betting in the regular conversation has also been an important part of William Hill’s strategy recently, Asher said, evidenced by its and Caesars’ partnerships with CBS Sports and ESPN, respectively.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, ultimately, because the size of this market is still on its exponential rise, at least for now. That’s the same whether you’re in the heart of the Strip or on a quiet rural Iowa road.

“This U.S. project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Greenblatt said. “There’s so much capital looking for a home, for exposure in the sector. That’s what makes experimentation possible, but it emphasizes innovation.

Because the U.S. market is still nascent, we still have the opportunity to be creative and innovative, and we couldn’t be more excited. The prizes for the winners can be immense.”

About the Author

Danny Lawhon

Danny Lawhon is based in West Des Moines, Iowa, and has maintained a diverse sports journalism career for more than a decade, including with the Des Moines Register. A native of northwest Missouri, Danny earns his betting money as a professional musician.

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