Sports Betting Is Topic No. 1 at Casino Industry Trade Show

(Bloomberg) -- In a city full of casino ads, the Caesars banner at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas was tough to miss. A simple message, hoisted over the escalator, welcomed passengers to the city: “Caesars Sports.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court in May upended a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada, the casino business has seen a flurry of deal-making and optimism. The giddiness was evident at the industry’s big trade show, the Global Gaming Expo, which opened Monday in Las Vegas.

Manufacturers touted new sports-betting products. Panelists in conference rooms discussed everything from regulatory compliance to the role of Bitcoin in athletic wagering. And in the bars and restaurants near the Sands Expo Center, sports betting was topic No. 1.

“There are so many unanswered questions, but these are exciting times for the U.S. gaming industry and the global sports-betting sector as a whole,” said James Kilsby, managing director of the Americas office for the consulting firm GamblingCompliance.

On the show floor, International Game Technology Plc, one of the biggest slot-machine makers, unveiled a betting terminal that lets players watch games on multiple personal screens and bet without getting out of their seats.

“There’s nothing like this on the market,” Renato Ascoli, who heads North American operations for the company, said in an interview.

Making Acquisitions

Scientific Games Corp., another large slot-machine manufacturer, on Tuesday agreed to buy Don Best Sports, a provider of sports-betting data. MGM GVC Interactive LLC, a recently inked joint venture between MGM Resorts International and GVC Holdings Plc, said Monday it signed a deal to offer sports betting at United Auburn Tribe’s Thunder Valley Casino Resort near Sacramento, California, should the state allow it.

At Chica, a bar in the Venetian Las Vegas, Mattias Stetz, chief operating officer for Rush Street Interactive, whipped out his cellphone to show off the dozens of bets players in New Jersey can make on the company’s SugarHouse sports betting app, including whether the next batter gets a hit or walks.

Five states now offer sports betting to residents and visitors within their borders: Nevada, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia and Delaware. Three more are expected to offer it in the next few months, including Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Mexico.

Major plays like MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Penn National Gaming Inc. have been rushing to offer sports betting in their casinos across the country. Right now, the numbers are small: For example New Jersey took in $16.5 million in sports bets through August after wagering began in mid-June.

Incumbent Advantage

While it’s too early to draw conclusions from the initial results, there are few trends emerging, according to Chris Grove, an analyst with researcher Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

Incumbent casinos and racetrack operators have become the “gatekeepers” to offering sports betting in all eight states that have approved it. Mobile sports wagering is allowed in half of those states. And professional sports leagues that have sought legislation letting them collect fees from the betting have so far failed.

“The leagues have been losing the battles despite particularly aggressive lobbying,” Grove said in a presentation at the show.

Irrational Exuberance

Not everyone has high hopes for the business. John Eder, chief financial officer at Hard Rock International, said the prices for casino acquisitions have gotten out of hand, driven in part by exuberance over the potential for sports betting.

“People have been jumping in headfirst and don’t know if there’s water in the pool,” he said on a panel Monday.

Downtown, at his flagship D Las Vegas casino, Chief Executive Officer Derek Stevens had a different perspective. He’s invested $300 million in two Las Vegas resorts and plans a third, the first entirely new downtown casino in decades. The new property, which hasn’t been named, will feature the largest sports book in the world, he said.

Stevens, who places big bets on the college basketball finals every year, is dropping his affiliation with sports-book operator William Hill Plc and plans to announce his own sports betting service.

Stevens also bought a 10 percent stake in the Vegas Stats & Information Network, a sports streaming service anchored by sportscaster Brent Musburger, and will put a studio for the business in his new resort. He said the increasing attention sports TV is paying to betting will boost the business.

“When people see on ESPN on sports center talking about Oklahoma playing Texas and what the point spread is, it certainly will increase sports betting around the country,” Stevens said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.