Sports betting was the big winner in Nevada’s gaming business last year, but did it come at the expense of other casino games?
Betting on sporting events rose 7.7 percent to $3.9 billion in 2014 and revenue hit a record, jumping 11.8 percent to $227 million, according to the Gaming Control Board.
Meanwhile, overall gaming revenue decreased 1.1 percent, falling to about $11 billion statewide. In northern Nevada, revenue was essentially flat in most areas. In Reno, for example, gaming revenue rose .32 percent to $552.1 million while in Lake Tahoe’s South Shore area revenue fell .78 percent to $207.1 million.
Gaming is not a zero sum game, but many attribute the jump in sports betting, which has been growing every year for more than five years, to the proliferation of mobile betting applications that let bettors use their cell phones to wager remotely from anywhere in Nevada.
The way it works is a bettor goes into a sportsbook and uses cash, as with all sports betting, to set up a mobile account to place bets. Once that’s done, the bettor does not have to return to the sportsbook until the account is depleted and he wants to replenish it or he wants to cash out.
That likely means fewer visits to the sportsbook’s casino by sports wagers, who may have been also playing the slots or tables or eating dinner at a restaurant.
David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said there is no hard data on sports bettors other gaming action, but he doubts flat gaming revenue can be attributed to reduced foot traffic at sportsbooks.
“It’s difficult to say exactly with no numbers and it would impact more the locally-oriented markets,” said Schwartz. “But I don’t see a big decline on other gaming tables or slots.”
Most casino sportsbooks are operated now by U.K.-based William Hill plc, which in 2012 purchased and merged Wagering, Inc., Brandywine Bookmaking LLC and the racing and sportsbook assets of Sierra Developments, known as Cal Neva.
The company offers a mobile app, which in the first half of 2014 accounted for 36 percent of its total wagers.
“We see it as a complement, not a substitute,” said Michael Grodsky, director of marketing at William Hill US in Las Vegas.
Grodsky said the company has been doing a lot to make its physical locations more appealing in order to attract and keep its clients walking through the door.
For example, it recently upgraded the sportsbooks at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks and the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Lake Tahoe to include 8-screen video walls. Four of the inside screens are used to broadcast games and four outside screens display lines on what is called live, in game wagering, which lets bettors continue to make different bets on a game as its being played.
Grodsky said in game betting can be done via the mobile app, but it’s more fun to do it in the sportsbook.
“We’re definitely growing the experience to keep you in the casino,” said Grodsky.
A handful of casinos use other sportsbooks. Baldini’s Casino, for example, last week announced that Station Casinos LLC will manage a new sportsbook at the Sparks casino, including Sports Connection Mobile, its remote betting application. And the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno continues to operate its own sportsbook.
“The short answer is mobile apps have affected our sportsbook business,” said David Farahi, chief operating officer, Monarch Casino & Resort Inc., Atlantis’ parent company.
The Atlantis doesn’t currently offer a mobile app, although it has plans to soon. But mobile apps offered elsewhere have cut into its in-house business, Farahi said.
So less than a year ago, the Reno resort upgraded its sportsbook and added two, 13-by-7 feet LED TV screens as well as wall-to-wall 75-inch screen TVs to draw people in.
The sportsbook also offers incentives such as dinner ticket for betting $50 or more on a parlay card that keeps people on the premises.
“Sportsbooks are not much of a money maker for casinos in general, but it is a way to attract traffic to the property,” said Farahi. “During the Super Bowl, our sportsbook was packed.”