RIP Las Vegas? Please. Sin City Bookies Say Bring It On, America

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(Bloomberg) -- You can’t miss the world’s largest sports-betting parlor, just past the bronze Elvis statue at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino.

It’s a glitzy temple to the big business of laying odds on college and pro games, with 400 cushy leather seats and a massive wall of video screens. Westgate spent $18 million building it two years ago. And now that the U.S. Supreme Court has put an end to Nevada’s near-monopoly on sports wagering? To hear Westgate executives tell it, no problem.

“We look at it as an opportunity,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations. “To duplicate what Las Vegas does is very hard to do.”

There’s no doubt that the high court decision, which struck down a 1992 law confining sports betting to just four states, will bring a seismic shift to the gambling industry. In the not-too-distant future, fans from Albany to San Jose may well be able to simply fire up their mobile phones to make their picks. There will be no need to catch a flight and pay for a room to get action on, say, the first team to score 20 points in an NBA game.

But in Vegas, this isn’t viewed, publicly at least, as a threat anymore. Early on, Nevada’s big casino operators weren’t behind the push to lift the ban on sports betting in most states, according to Ray Lesniak, the former New Jersey state senator who was a leader in the movement. They were afraid of the competition, he said. Eventually, though, the American Gaming Association came aboard, filing a brief and lobbying in favor of the effort as something that could benefit its members.

No Big Deal

Indeed, after the Supreme Court ruling, MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp. issued statements applauding it. Casinos figure they can leverage the new landscape to capture some of the estimated $150 billion in illegal sports bets that are made every year around the country.

As for Vegas as a tourist draw, the end of the ban may not be a big deal. Sports books generated only $249 million in revenue for Nevada casinos last year -- just 2 percent of the $11.5 billion total gambling revenue in the state. Matt Maddox, chief executive officer of Wynn Resorts Ltd., has likened sports wagering to the buffet line, an amenity he has to offer but never a huge moneymaker.

Local diehards aren’t so sure about the big wigs’ optimism. In the Westgate’s sports book, as a Padres versus Rockies baseball game played in the background, Tom Matejko, a 67-year-old real estate agent, said he was worried about his hometown. “If I can go to an Indian casino in upstate New York, am I still going to take a five-hour flight to Las Vegas?” he said. “They don’t have to come here anymore.”

But Sin City has made a serious effort to be much more than just about gambling of any stripe. MGM Resorts, for example, built the copper-colored T-Mobile Arena, home to the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, a sensation in just their first year. Now Park Avenue, a formerly dreary side street that leads to the arena, is bustling with live-music and beer gardens, not slot machines.

Las Vegas has survived many threats, from online betting to the proliferation of casinos nationwide. In any event, people keen on betting on sports far from Vegas were “doing it anyway“ illegally, said Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas CEO Bill McBeath, a sponsor of the hockey team. Nothing much will change for them. Vegas, he said, will be fine.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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