Sports Betting Execs: It’s Time to Reimagine Retail Sportsbooks in Mobile Era

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The sportsbook may still have a place. It just has to be less like a sportsbook.

That’s because sports betting in the United States has taken an unmistakable characteristic in just four-plus years as a legal possibility outside of Nevada.

Upwards of 90 percent of the wagers placed in the jurisdictions where mobile and online wagering are legal are made on phones, computers, or other connected devices. Not at a kiosk or with a ticket writer.

Concurrently, and perhaps a bit oddly, gambling companies have scrambled to add social platforms and chat functions to their sports betting apps.

Why? To put the communal — read: “Ha, my bet was great and yours sucked” — back into an experience that until the nullification of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was embodied by TV-encrusted sportsbooks in Las Vegas, beer buckets, and football jerseys.

Somewhere between a smoke-filled mega mancave and a table full of friends thumbing quietly through apps is the modern sportsbook. Circa has redefined the concept in Las Vegas, but that won’t work everywhere.

Jessica Feil is working on it.

“This is very social for bettors in our markets, and they are very interested in it being a recreational activity,” Feil, the Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Compliance at OpenBet, told Gaming Today at the Racing and Gaming Conference at Saratoga. “You’ve got to meet them there because, really, those old-world, you-sit-and-you-study-your-racing-form or whatever [sportsbooks], it doesn’t appeal to people who are new to this.”

Also read: Takeaways from the Racing and Gaming Conference in Saratoga

Sports Betting Can Still be Mobile, Just Mobile Together

So with sports bettors likely to keep ordering parlays like they do rides, empanadas, and dates, physical sportsbooks need to be rethought. This while the ultimate goal for gambling companies remains enticing customers inside casinos.

“It depends on the property and their customers and what they’re trying to accomplish with setting up this retail sportsbook,” Feil said. “But really, we think that if you’re trying to drive foot traffic into your property, this is a great way to do it. We’ve always heard from the Vegas sportsbooks that it’s really more of an amenity than a gaming vertical. And I think that’s true.

“So, think of it as an amenity where you can create this sportsbook of the future, maybe more like an Apple Genius Bar than an old-world sportsbook, that’s going to get new consumers to your property that probably aren’t coming there to play other games, giving them an experience that they’re looking for in a social way, and then expose them to the other products that you offer.”

Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis, who foisted sports betting as an engagement tool when the notion was still taboo to sports leagues in North America, has long used the Apple analogy. And he followed through, making Capital One Arena, the home of the Capitals (NHL), Mystics (WNBA), and Wizards (NBA), the first in North America with a sportsbook. Since, other arenas, such as Footprint Center in Arizona, have added full-time retail sportsbooks, although mobile wagering is legal in their states.

OpenBet, a wagering platform provider that bills itself as “the world leader in sports betting entertainment”, lists major brands such as Caesars Entertainment, FanDuel, Golden Nugget, and DraftKings as clients.

“It’s a calculation that every property has to do for themselves in terms of how much floor space,” Feil said. “We all spend so much time thinking about how every game in-property is performing. And so how do you shuffle that around? Especially because if you’re thinking about using the venue for high-priority events, the Super Bowl and March Madness, playoffs, things like that, there’s going to be downtime for it. So what do you do with that space during the downtime?

“But there’s ways to use it productively too, whether it’s customer service or having the kiosks for other events or just generally being an event space, too.”

That’s part of the equation at The Brook in Seabrook, N.H. It houses a charitable casino and sportsbook and simulcast parlor in a state where wagering is available through mobile and online. Why trek to the former greyhound track one exit north of the Massachusetts line?

“I think people will come in to bet bricks-and-mortar,” said Andre Carrier, the president of property-owner Eureka Casino Resort. “They like to trade on their cash during the day. You come in with an initial budget, you make some bets, you win, you lose, you remake some bets, you win, you lose, you remake some bets. That’s probably the differentiation between the customer that’s coming here versus just making some bets on their phone.

“I also think they’re kind of probably doing more than one thing during the day. So I’m going to make some bets, I’m going to play some poker. I may end my day playing roulette. The more complete gaming experience is probably what’s drawing me at that time.”

Phones, Food, Fun Make the Sportsbook Cool

While Americans have differentiated themselves from their counterparts in their taste for mobile betting — it accounts for about 70% of European wagers — Simon Fraser, Senior Vice President of International, 1/ST Technology, thinks the communal aspects of wagering still apply here. That means a sportsbook can be anywhere in a state with mobile betting, and food and atmosphere become major factors.

It’s therefore not surprising that several national sports bar chains have begun teaming up with sports betting partners. Hooters aligned with DraftKings, Buffalo Wild Wings signed a deal with BetMGM, and Dave & Buster’s management is extremely interested. Barstool opened a sports bar in Philadelphia. Odds feeds are ubiquitous at sports bars, even in states where betting is illegal.

On Monday, DraftKings and Live! Hospitality & Entertainment announced they would open the first Sports & Social DraftKings venue (below) this fall in the Somerset Collection luxury mall in Troy, Michigan.

Social-DraftKings-Somerset-Collection

But the corner pub could be a part of the reformation as much as corporations. And maybe wings and a couple pints down the street can come to compete with a cheap six-pack and your living couch. With laws in several states including Ohio — where mobile betting will be legal — allowing for taverns to set up betting kiosks, the local could become more than a spot for a beer and a game among the like-minded.

“Retail is still massive, internationally across most countries in the world,” Fraser said. “I think there’s an opportunity for retail people. Betting is a social event. And it happens in sports bars and yes, on mobile and so on, but there is an opportunity to grab people retail-wise and to get them together, to have that social kind of feeling about it. And that’s a big part of the international scene, which I think could be mirrored in certain parts of the U.S. as well.”

Hall of Fame Village a prototype destination sportsbook?

Mike Crawford thinks it can be mirrored at the Hall of Fame Village in Canton, Ohio.

The chairman of Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment said when partnering with Rush Street Interactive to build a sportsbook on the same campus as the NFL shrine he made it clear that “you can’t simply build a box.”

“I think the key for us is we’re building experiences all around [patrons] as well,” he told Gaming Today. “And so when you look at sports franchises – football – they’re depending on the sport. They’re going to have eight, nine games in their stadium and some concerts, and that’s going to drive people. Basketball, quite a few more. Baseball, a tremendous amount more. That’s going to generate a lot of activity for a good part of the year.

“I can tell you coming out of COVID and still seeing our stadium fill up for big events, social environments are going to be a need and a want and a demand for as long as people survive.”

“For us as a destination. we’re going to couple sports betting with virtual reality gaming, Topgolf swing suites, one-of-a-kind food and beverage concepts, outdoor rides, and attractions,” Crawford continued. “And then on top of that, build the event slate like we have this year with XFL football and the enshrinement event and black college football kickoff classic, women’s football championships, Dave Chappelle, Journey … the list goes on. You must have programming and you have to pulse people through for different reasons. And we all know sports gives them a reason to come back over and over whether it’s basketball season, baseball, hockey, whatever the case may be. And of course for us being a destination already with the pro hall of fame.”

Sports betting in Ohio will feature mobile and retail options when the market launches on Jan. 1, meaning HOFV visitors will need a reason to patronize the RSI sportsbook. HOFV has signed a deal to make Betr its official mobile partner, but bettors will have scores of other choices there, too. Crawford is confident they’ll be captivated.

“Social environments are really important to us as human beings and we’re creating this fun, engaging environment where you can make bets anywhere in the room,” he said. “You don’t have to walk up to a cage to make a bet, the old Vegas style, a very passive, ‘I have to go someplace, put money down and leave.’ Here you can be immersed in … maybe it’s memorabilia, maybe it’s other celebrity appearances, maybe it’s people coming back to call the games, the particular sport that they played. That’s why we really like what we do coupled with what RSI does.”

About the Author
Brant James

Brant James

Brant James is the lead writer for Gaming Today canvassing events and trends in the gambling industry. He has covered the American sports betting industry in the United States since before professional sports teams even knew what an official gaming partnership entailed. Before focusing on the gambling industry, James was a nationally acclaimed motorsports writer and a long-time member of the National Hockey League media corps, formerly writing for USA Today, ESPN, SI.com and the Tampa Bay Times.

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