Desert Companion

Analysis: Welcome to the Game, America

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Gaming
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Sports betting is now legal in all 50 states. What does that mean for us?

Nevada’s sports-betting monopoly is officially over. On May 14, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), opening the floodgates for full-scale sports betting to spread beyond Nevada’s borders for the first time.

Before the ruling came down, there was only one way fans could lawfully place a wager on single-game sporting events: Come to Nevada. Which is why the national consensus on the ruling was essentially, “It’s about time.”

And other states aren’t wasting any time. In anticipation of the ruling, New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi already have sports-betting legislation on the books. Twenty-two additional states have introduced similar bills. One research firm predicts 32 states will be in the sports-betting business within five years.

What does this mean for Nevada’s sports-betting industry — and tourism? Will bettors stay in their hometowns for the Super Bowl and the NCAA tournament? Will Nevada seize the moment to export its brand and expertise? What states will be first in line for full-fledged sports betting? Here’s what to watch for:

• New Jersey is best positioned to be the first state to post odds and begin accepting wagers. London-based William Hill, whose U.S. division operates more than 100 Nevada sportsbooks, has had a sports bar at New Jersey racetrack Monmouth Park that was set up to convert to a full sportsbook. It aims to be open for business by early June.

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• Considering the jump-start they got, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi likely will be the next to begin taking bets, perhaps by the time the 2018 football season kicks off in September.

• Las Vegas will leverage its expertise and relationships for a piece of the action. In Jay Kornegay’s perfect world, other states will be taking bets inside their own SuperBooks. Kornegay is the veteran vice president of race and sportsbook operations at Westgate Las Vegas, home to the famous Westgate SuperBook that is frequently cited when national media discussions turn to point spreads and futures odds. Kornegay says he and his colleagues have been ready with plans to spread to other markets that pass sports-betting legislation. “We’ve been preparing to expand our SuperBook brand and our SuperContest (a professional football handicapping contest), so we’ve been talking to other states, other jurisdictions about possible partnerships.”

“We’ve had legalized sports wagering in Nevada since 1949, so we have a history of operations, monitoring, regulating,” says Jennifer Roberts, associate director of UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation. “Now you’re going to see those operators that have experience offer whatever resources they can to help guide new operators and new states coming on board.”

• As gaming spreads nationwide, Nevada will continue to adapt. Last year, Nevada sportsbooks took in $4.87 billion in wagers, with the books keeping $248.8 million of that. What happens to that revenue now that we no longer have a stranglehold on sports betting? And what about all the non-gaming revenue generated by sports bettors? Veteran observers aren’t worried. Longtime bookmaker Vinny Magliulo, now an executive at Vegas Stats and Information Network, addressed this on one of VSiN’s satellite radio shows. “Back in the 1970s, when casino-style wagering expanded, primarily in New Jersey and then a couple of decades later into Mississippi and other parts of the country, we were asked, ‘Is that the death knell for Las Vegas?’” he said. “As you know … visitation here has actually increased. And this will do the same thing.”

Kornegay agrees. “A very small percentage of our visitors actually come to Las Vegas to make a sports bet,” he says. “People come to Las Vegas for our venues, the atmosphere, and all the amenities this great city has to offer. That’s not going to change. When we have our big events — Super Bowl, March Madness, the opening weekend of the NFL — we’re very confident you’re going to see the same types of crowds that you’ve seen before. Las Vegas is going to be just fine.” 

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