RENO, Nev. — From the days of 1940s turf clubs dotting Las Vegas to the 190 legal sports books planted throughout Nevada in 2018, the Silver State has long been the nation’s home base for sports bettors.
The industry’s playing field, however, is getting bigger.
This stems from the U.S. Supreme Court on May 14, 2018, striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the federal law that essentially limited sports betting to one state — Nevada — for the past 25 years. PASPA was declared unconstitutional, giving states the power to decide whether to allow its residents to bet on sports.
Seven months later, seven other states have legalized some form of sports betting, with books opening in Delaware, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and New Jersey. And more are coming.
With recent bills passed, New York and Arkansas are on deck, and 21 other states, including neighboring California, are warming up to legalization with bills introduced in 2018.
It makes Nevada’s platform ‘even stronger’
Indeed, Nevada is no longer the sole oasis for betting on the Super Bowl, March Madness, World Series, Kentucky Derby and every other big-time boxing match and sporting event in-between. In fact, New Jersey’s sports betting market is already closing in on the $1 billion mark ($928 million, to be exact) after less than six months of operation, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 14.
Considering that, how will the expanded playing field — led by the Garden State’s fast-growing market — impact the industry’s founding state?
Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Becky Harris, for one, feels it will only strengthen it.
“I think in some sense, legalized sports betting in other jurisdictions is just going to increase the desire to come to Nevada to engage in sports betting,” Chairwoman Harris said in an interview with the NNBV. “There is always the Vegas experience that people are going to want to have. I think, overall, with important events like the Super Bowl and March Madness, you’re still going to see just an incredible amount of people that want to come here and experience it the only way we can provide it.”
Christopher Abraham, senior vice president of marketing at Grand Sierra Resort in Reno and SLS Las Vegas, agrees.
“As founders of sports betting, we’re thrilled that it’s becoming more legalized around the country,” he told the NNBV. “It makes our platform even stronger here in Nevada. As databases grow and people become more accustomed to the sports betting platform, they’ll want to come to Nevada.”
Nevada’s sports book action during the first full month of football back that assessment up. In September, Nevada’s books won a record $56.3 million on bets for both NFL games and college football, topping the previous record of $53.3 million set in September 2012, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s monthly revenue report. For the month, a record $571 million was wagered, eclipsing last October’s historical high mark of $565 million.
According to ESPN.com, more money was bet and lost at Nevada sports books in September than any other month since the state began tracking sports betting revenue reports in 1984.
“I think sports betting in Nevada has never been more popular,” said Michael Grodsky, VP of marketing and public relations at global bookmaker William Hill, which operates 107 race and sports books in Nevada. “The popularity continues to grow each season it seems like.”
That was especially true of a sport that typically doesn’t see much action that got a boost in wagering this past year: hockey. The Nevada Gaming Control Board groups hockey with tennis and golf in a category labeled “Other,” while football, baseball and basketball have separate distinctions.
Why the uptick? Nevada is in year two of having its own NHL team — and a top-tier one, to boot. Capturing the attention of Nevada sports fans and bettors alike, the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural 2017-2018 season, losing to the Washington Capitals, 4 games to 1.
“The best thing to happen to us (and our sports books) was the Knights making the Cup playoffs,” said Gary Carano, CEO of Reno-founded Eldorado Resorts. “Hockey is getting more and more popular. All of a sudden the West Coast is watching and betting on hockey.”
The numbers don’t lie. In Clark County, the “other” category’s handle during the NHL regular season (October to March) was $214 million, according to ESPN.com. It was a 36 percent jump from the $157 million wagered the previous NHL season, before the Golden Knights launched as a franchise.
SMALL PIECE OF THE PIE
Some may assume sports betting makes up a sizeable piece of Nevada casinos’ revenue pie.
It’s not. In fact, it’s merely a thin slice. According to a UNLV Center for Gaming Research report on sports betting totals for 1984-2017, the overall casino win percentage on sports betting is 5.52 percent.
“Sports betting in Nevada has never been a primary driver, it’s always been an amenity here,” Abraham said. “Nevada has evolved to the point where it’s an entire resort experience and sports betting is one amenity toward that. It’s much different than a place like New Jersey that relies almost solely on casino revenue.”
Still, Chairwoman Harris feels the sports betting industry is primed for a period of transformation, led by technology.
“A good example of that is the mobile sports betting application that we allow here in Nevada,” she said. “Where people are now wagering in-game. I think it’s yet to be determined how much that actually drives interest in the game versus becomes a distraction during the sporting events.”
Regardless, it stands to reason that the convenience of betting from anywhere — from your couch to the casino — and at any game time — from kickoff to the 2-minute warning — will only continue to grow the sports betting industry in Nevada.
“I think we’re going to continue to see it evolve,” Grodsky said. “It’s always been in the culture in Nevada.”
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