There’s at least one Indiana-based organization with its hands in the sports world that doesn’t elicit a facepalm reaction when its name is brought up.
And sorry, NCAA: We’re not talking about you.
Ed Feigenbaum has been the editor and publisher of the Indiana Gaming Insight newsletter since the early 1990s, and he’s hard-pressed to recall an occasion in which the Indiana Gaming Commission has fallen flat on its face.
From stable executive leadership through the years down to its largely successful 2019 rollout of sports wagering, Indiana appears to have both the industry and the consumer as its focus, said Feigenbaum.
Not bad for a state that didn’t even have legal lotteries until about 30 years ago.
“The biggest takeaway should be we did everything right in Indiana, and we had everybody come together on (sports wagering),” said Feigenbaum, an attorney who also operates the Indiana Legislative Insight publication and is well-connected within the Hoosier State’s political circles. “Everybody understood what we needed and wanted out of it. This is the way it’s been for the gaming industry — more of the good kind of same.”
Global pandemic excepted, it’s hard to argue with the volume of results Indiana has churned out since it became the second Midwest state to offer legal sports gambling this past September (Iowa was the first, in August 2019).
But unlike the Hawkeye State, Indiana did not set forth in-person registration requirements at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in order to unlock mobile wagering capabilities. That common-sense approach to technology, a sports-rabid population and a boatload of Chicagoans who couldn’t bet in Illinois in 2019 led to a groundswell of momentum for the state.
Even in these past four months of the coronavirus reality, Indiana managed to pass the $1 billion mark in handle in just nine months of legal action, according to monthly reporting numbers released by the commission Monday. Projected tax revenues of roughly $12 million in the first year of wagers were on pace through the first six months — with $6.2 million or so in the initial six months — prior to the COVID-19 onslaught.
“The numbers were literally coming in right as projected, if not for the pandemic,” Feigenbaum said.
And the physical sportsbooks were humming along just fine prior to the near-nationwide shutdown of large gathering spaces this spring. Dan Nita, a regional president for Caesars Entertainment and general manager of the Horseshoe Hammond casino less than a mile east of the Illinois border, said the initial wave of NFL prop bets this past fall outstripped anything in the Caesars group of regionalized sports wagering.
The Hammond property has maintained a long-standing partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks that also paid recognition dividends, he said. Impressively, the Horseshoe processed $75 million of that $1 billion handle from September through March, all without having a mobile product, which didn’t launch until mid-May. The Horseshoe’s handle totals have consistently run third in the state, behind another Chicago-area book at the Ameristar East and the Michigan City-based Blue Chip property.
Nita said the balanced home and in-person entertainment options for consumers is essential, in spite of bettors’ increasing habits to do more from their couches.
“Some guests want to place bets in person; others watch games in their basements or garages or in their lucky La-Z-Boy,” he said.
Or, as Feigenbaum put it, the attraction of the Hammond’s 5,300-square foot space is simpler: “If you’re coming from Chicago and driving down the Skyway, why stop there (to make a geofenced mobile bet) when you can go another half-mile, grab a beer, get some wings and bet on games?”
All the same, the Horseshoe plans to benefit from William Hill assuming operations control of Caesars’ sportsbook app after the latter group was bought out by Eldorado Resorts, which has a sportsbook partnership with William Hill. Nita said foot traffic in the sportsbook has slowly gained momentum with reopenings of casinos and relaunching of sports.
Indeed, the state reported $70.5 million in wagers in July, and the Horseshoe took in nearly $1 million in handle. They’re far cries from a high of $187.2 million in Indiana handle in February, but everyone has to restart somewhere.
“We’re markedly better than when nothing was going on domestically,” Nita said. “It’s building.”
Odds and ends
A few weeks ago, we reported on PointsBet’s brand partnership with the Detroit Tigers as the team’s official sportsbook provider. The Australia-based company extended its reach in Indiana this past week as well, announcing a similar agreement with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.
Last week, we reported that DraftKings was setting its foothold in Illinois with the imminent sportsbook launch through the Casino Queen in East St. Louis. The company formally launched operations there Aug. 5, but with Illinois still requiring in-person registration when casinos are open and the Chicago metro a four-hour drive away, the larger initial draw for the property could be for Missouri residents in the St. Louis metropolitan area looking to cross the Mississippi River and make legal bets.