Joe Asher didn’t really expect to be back in the sports betting world so quickly. He and his family spent the summer in Del Mar, California, hanging out by the beach, reading books and betting on horse races at nearby the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. He also found time to call the sixth race during the Elko County Fair in September, reliving his days as the youngest horse race track announcer in North America, calling races at age 18 at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, Foxboro Raceway outside Boston, and Brandywine and Dover Downs in Delaware. But a little more than five months after departing as CEO of William Hill U.S. following the company's acquisition by Caesars Entertainment, Asher, 54, is already into his first week as the new president of sports betting for International Game Technology (IGT). One name, Asher said, brought him out of his brief retirement – Enrico Drago, IGT’s CEO for digital and betting. They became acquainted when William U.S. and IGT became partners in managing the sports betting operations in Rhode Island on behalf of the Rhode Island Lottery. “That's how I got to know Enrico and I always liked him,” Asher told The Nevada Independent. “We talked shortly after I left William Hill. It was more of a 'goodbye, great working with you, we’ll see what the future holds.'” The discussion over the summer was initially about consulting with IGT, whose PlaySports wagering platform and management system is provided to some 50 sportsbooks operated by 20 different companies across 18 states. The discussions initially involved some consulting work of IGT because Asher didn’t want to commit to any potentially new job over the summer, at least until his kids were back in school. “The conversations began to pick up quickly toward the end of August and at some point they morphed from consulting into a full-time position,” he said. First, however, Asher needed waiving of his non-compete clause in his severance agreement from Caesars, which paid $4 billion for all United Kingdom-based William Hill. In September, Caesars agreed to sell William Hill’s non-U.S. operations to 888 Holdings for $3 billion. “(Caesars CEO) Tom (Reeg) was very gracious for allowing me this opportunity,” Asher said. IGT will be a much different role for Asher, who launched Brandywine Bookmaking in Las Vegas in 2008, which operated more than a dozen sportsbooks in Nevada under the brand name Lucky’s Race & Sports. William Hill acquired Brandywine in 2012, which became the basis for William Hill U.S., and Asher was named CEO. “Both William Hill and Brandywine were both (business-to-business) B2B and (business-to-consumer) B2C companies,” Asher said. IGT offers all the services and tools needed for a casino to manage a sports betting business. “This is pure B2B.” At this week’s Global Gaming Expo at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, Asher is finding himself planted in the IGT tradeshow floor booth, greeting current and potential customers. “It’s kind of like drinking from a firehose,” he said. Still, it’s familiar territory for Asher. “There is obviously a lot of opportunity in the sports betting world,” Asher said. “Both at William Hill and Brandywine, the relationships with our partners were very important. I think I'm very much focused on making sure you do the best you can to service your customers. And, at the end of the day, you want to create value for shareholders.” Asher has been a central figure in the growth of legalized sports betting since moving to Nevada in 2006 to help Cantor Fitzgerald lobby for a change in state laws to launch the first mobile sports betting devices. He became one of a handful of gaming and sports betting leaders advocating for the activity’s nationwide legalization in 2017, ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court arguments that year. Ultimately, the justices affirmed New Jersey’s challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Sports betting is legal and regulated in 27 states and Washington D.C. “We expect continued growth in our PlaySports business, and Joe Asher's knowledge, experience, network and vision for sports betting are key ingredients to boosting our future success," Drago said in a statement announcing Asher’s appointment. Eilers & Krejcik: Dominance in Nevada sports betting is a three-company race
According to Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, J.B Smoove, Jamie Foxx and Derek Stevens had a better sports betting month in Nevada than Matt Cutshall and Shaquille O'Neal.
Statewide, sports betting revenue figures and wagering totals during August were both down from a year ago. The advisory firm described August 2020 as a “COVID-impacted, on-steroids calendar” that tracked well-above the month’s historical totals. Still, with eight months completed, Nevada sports gamblers have wagered $4.2 billion while sportsbooks have collected $255 million in revenues, the Nevada Gaming Control Board said last week. Both figures are well ahead of 2019’s record-setting year of $5.3 billion in wagers and $329.1 million in revenues. Caesars Entertainment, through Caesars Sportsbook, and Circa Sports, which is operated by downtown Las Vegas casino owner Derek Stevens, trended up in their shares of Nevada’s sports betting market for 2021. The difference in market share was striking, however. Caesars is the state’s leader, according to Eilers & Krejcik, with almost 60 percent of sports betting revenue in the state through August. In April, Caesars completed its acquisition of William Hill U.S. and added the company’s Nevada locations. Circa has five locations including Stevens’ three downtown casinos, the off-Strip Tuscany and The Pass Casino in Henderson, It accounted for just 2.6 percent of the overall revenues. The results from BetMGM during August, which is operated by MGM Resorts International, was viewed as flat by the firm. Still, BetMGM is considered Nevada’s No. 2 operator, with more than 15 percent of the market. Several operations experienced a decreasing trend, according to the firm, including Wynn Resorts, which operates just a retail sportsbook on the Strip. The company has yet to launch its mobile WynnBet in Nevada.
Station Casinos’ STN Sports, despite having the state’s third highest market percentage — almost 11 percent — fell under the declining trend, according to the firm. Eliers & Krejcik Gaming analysts Chris Grove and Chris Krafcik said Nevada is mirroring other sports betting states where three brands have control of the market. “(Caesars) massive retail footprint (80-plus locations) remains its key structural advantage in Nevada, where in-person registration is required for online sports betting,” the analysts wrote in a research report. “The recent share gains at BetMGM reflect a big increase in BetMGM’s Nevada’s app download activity.” Eilers & Krejcik cautioned that it used information from different data providers and “proprietary assumptions” and it “regards these estimates as low-to-medium confidence” because of the state’s lack of transparency into gaming revenues. Meanwhile, sports betting operators are flooding the airwaves to push their products. Caesars told investors in August it will spend more than $1 billion over the next two years nationally to promote its Caesars Sportsbook, including ads featuring Smoove as Caesar. The comedian grew a following through the TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” BetMGM was one of the first sports betting operators with a national advertising presence through Foxx, an Academy Award-winning actor, as the “King of Sportsbooks.” Meanwhile, retired NBA superstar O’Neal is a brand ambassador for WynnBet and appeared in an online television ad for the product that starred Oscar winner Ben Affleck, who also directed the spot. Station Casinos has been running an advertising campaign on Las Vegas airwaves for its STN Sports app featuring Cutshall, an Instagram comedian. Howard Stutz is a reporter for The Nevada Independent, a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization. The following people or entities mentioned in this article are financial supporters of The Indy: Caesars Entertainment - $155,200; Station Casinos - $100,000; and IGT - $7,500. These stories were first published Oct. 6 by The Nevada Independent within its weekly Indy Gaming newsletter and are republished here with permission. Go to nvindy.com for more Nevada news and go to thenevadaindependent.com/newsletters to sign up for the newsletter.