Bally’s Betting Spree Includes Online Deal, Sinclair Partnership

Bally’s Corp. is acquiring closely held Bet.Works Corp. and signing a marketing agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc., a pair of deals that could help turn a once-modest Rhode Island horse-track operator into a big player in sports betting.

The Providence-based company has agreed to pay $125 million -- half in cash and half in stock -- for Bet.Works, an online-betting technology firm. As part of the transaction, Bet.Works Chief Executive Officer David Wang will stay on as head of a new Bally’s Interactive division.

At the same time, Bally’s has agreed to put its name on 21 regional sports networks owned by Sinclair, part of a wide-ranging deal with the Maryland-based broadcaster. Sinclair is receiving a naming-rights fee, a share of Bally’s future interactive-advertising spending and options to acquire as much as 30% of the casino operator’s stock.

Sinclair broadcasts some 5,000 live games a year across its channels, providing a major showcase, Bally’s Chief Executive Officer George Papanier said in an interview. The deal includes promoting his company’s brand during the games and in shows around them.

“It gives us a lot of access to talk directly to these customers,” Papanier said.

Bally’s, which until this month was called Twin River Worldwide Holdings Inc., is preparing a broad rollout of sports and online betting in the U.S. After a slew of acquisitions, most of them this year, Bally’s will control 14 casinos in 10 states. It plans to offer online wagers under its recently acquired Bally’s brand in New Jersey, Colorado, Iowa and Indiana in coming months.

Papanier cites estimates that online wagering could be a $12 billion business in the U.S. by 2025, up from about $2 billion today. He thinks the company could grab 10% of the internet-gaming and sports-betting market.

The Bet.Works acquisition will allow Bally’s to operate at a higher margin because the company won’t have to pay third parties for the technology, according to Papanier. And its network of physical casinos means Bally’s won’t have to pay fees to other license holders in those states. Its database of 14 million casino customers will also give it a leg up.

“Our customer-acquisition costs will be less than most of our competitors,” he said.

Gambling Technology

Bet.Works, which is based in Las Vegas and employs about 130 people, provides technology to gambling operators such as Elite Sportsbook, which operates betting kiosks in Colorado, and the sports-news site theScore, which offers online wagering in Indiana and other markets.

Sports betting has surged in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed markets outside of Nevada to offer such wagering two years ago. Betting on athletic competitions is now legal in 25 states, with more expected to come. The introduction of sports betting, much of it on mobile devices, has also sparked an increase in online wagering on other casino games, such as blackjack.

Bally’s roots lie with a single horse track that opened in Lincoln, Rhode Island, in 1947. After an acquisition and expansion by Kerzner International Holdings Ltd. and Starwood Capital Group, the track declared bankruptcy in 2009 and emerged the following year with new owners. Bally’s largest shareholder today, with nearly 38% of the stock, is the hedge fund Standard General, whose founding partner, Soo Kim, is chairman of the casino operator.

Papanier, a 16-year veteran at the track, merged the company with Delaware-based Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment Inc. last year to obtain a public stock listing. In December, the company had just four casinos in three states. While its strategy previously was to reduce exposure to the increasingly competitive New England market, sports betting gave Papanier a new focus.

“That became our strategy and we began aggressively acquiring brick-and-mortar assets,” he said.

Swooping In

As Eldorado Resorts Inc. looked to shed properties to complete its own merger with Caesars Entertainment, Papanier swooped in, buying the Bally’s casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for $25 million in April and then the Bally’s name last month for $20 million.

The Bally brand dates back to a pinball-machine maker founded in 1932. Over the years, it’s been applied to everything from slot machines to fitness clubs. Papanier said he’ll convert all his casinos to that name over the next 18 months.

The Caesars merger, coupled with the pandemic, allowed him to pick up 10 casinos this year for a total of $721 million, a fraction of their replacement value.

Having a physical presence in a state gives online operators an advantage because state legislatures have generally given casinos and horse tracks control over online licenses. Other operators, such as DraftKings Inc., typically sign revenue-sharing deals with the casino owners to gain access to a particular state.

Bally’s will let other operators use its licenses for a fee, retaining one in each state for itself. The company has raised $1.35 billion in bond and bank borrowing over the past two years to pay for its expansion.

Papanier said he’s still looking for other casinos to buy, preferably in states where Bally’s doesn’t currently operate so he can add those online licenses. He’s not interested in the Las Vegas Strip, he said, because the company already owns a casino in Nevada.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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