The first bet I ever placed at a Las Vegas sportsbook was in 1983 on the favored Miami Dolphins to win Super Bowl XVII. Washington won the game easily, 27-17. Fresh out of college and having moved to Las Vegas from Southern California, the smallish sportsbook at the then-Bingo Palace offered an experience you could only find in Nevada.

That uniqueness is gone forever. Legal sports betting is closing in on more than 40 states. This week’s Indy Gaming looks at how Nevada’s sportsbooks fit into the changing landscape. 

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A sports fan sitting in a Phoenix-area restaurant can download any of the dozen sports betting apps licensed by Arizona gaming regulators, fill out the customer data and credit card information and immediately start wagering on college and professional sports.

A sports fan in Las Vegas can go through a similar process but with one added step: The customer has to complete the sign-up at a licensed sportsbook associated with the app. 

Analysts said the lack of the technology, known as remote registration, serves as a detriment to Nevada’s sports betting industry and is one of the factors in seeing the Silver State, once the leader for the activity, fall to 10th place for annual revenue behind more populous sports betting states that have legalized the activity since 2018.  

Gaming Control Board regulations requiring customers to register for mobile sports wagering accounts in person at a casino have kept some of the popular operators, such as DraftKings, FanDuel and the recently launched ESPN BET, on the sidelines. The companies are not associated with a casino in Nevada. 

Nearly every other state, including those without casinos, allows online registration.

“I live in Maryland but I’m in New York every couple of weeks,” Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon said in an interview last week. “On my way up on the train I pass through New Jersey. If I’m opening a BetMGM or DraftKings or FanDuel app, they automatically geolocate me [into that state’s app].”

Nevada’s sports betting industry set an all-time revenue record in 2023, collecting more than $481.4 million. Nationwide, however, Nevada’s total was just the 10th largest among 37 states and Washington, D.C., that offered legal sports betting last year.

New York, New Jersey and Illinois each topped more than $1 billion in sports betting revenue in 2023, according to a report released by the American Gaming Association (AGA) last week. Neighboring Arizona, which hasn’t reported its sports betting totals for December, finished ahead of Nevada with $492.4 million in just 11 months.

Analysts and Nevada sportsbook operators said the state’s small population is the primary reason for the decline from the seventh spot in 2022. 

“I think that’s it right there,” Beynon said. The top nine sports betting states all have larger populations — ranging from 20 million to 7 million — than Nevada’s almost 3.2 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed states to legalize and regulate sports betting ended Nevada’s status as the only legal sports betting state.

Sports betting is considered an ancillary gaming activity in Nevada unless there is a major sports event taking place, such as the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament or the Super Bowl, which took in a record $185.6 million in wagers two weeks ago. 

Jay Kornegay, who has overseen the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas since 2004 and previously operated three other Strip sportsbooks, said the in-person registration requirement was never an issue when Nevada “had a monopoly on the sports wagering industry.”

SuperBook operates online sports betting in eight additional states that don’t require in-person sign-ups.

“It’s run very smoothly over the last three years,” Kornegay said, adding that Nevada’s ranking nationwide will continue to be determined by population, although he believes adding the technology available in other states “would increase and help out our numbers.”

The FanDuel Sportsbook inside the Fremont Hotel Casino is operated by Boyd Gaming. The location is seen on Jan. 12, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Two of the largest sports betting operators in the U.S., DraftKings and FanDuel, do not operate in Nevada because of the in-person registration requirement. Boyd Gaming owns 5 percent of FanDuel and rebranded its sportsbook inside the Fremont Hotel Casino as FanDuel. But Boyd still operates the business.

Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analyst Chris Krafcik said in an email Nevada would “materially increase” the size of its sports betting market by eliminating in-person registration.

“Operators like FanDuel, DraftKings, and ESPN Bet would be net additive to, rather than having a cannibalistic impact on, the market,” he wrote.

The potential addition of legal sports betting to California, Texas and Florida — the nation’s three largest states by population — could also alter Nevada’s landscape.

Nevada sportsbooks took in $8.3 billion in wagers in 2023, a decline of 5.1 percent from 2022’s record of $8.7 billion. Nationally, sportsbooks accepted more than $119.8 billion in wagers in 2023, a nearly 28 percent increase, primarily because there were five additional sports betting states than in 2022. 

Even with the absence of remote registration, almost 66 percent of all sports wagers in Nevada in 2023 were made on mobile devices, according to the control board.

The growth of legal sports wagering is one prong in AGA’s effort to eliminate illegal and unregulated sportsbooks that are based outside the U.S. but market to American customers.

“There’s no question that we have been able to migrate [to legal sports books] tens of millions of Americans who previously only had the illegal marketplace as an option for sports betting,” AGA CEO Bill Miller said during an online press conference last week.

The AGA declined to comment on Nevada’s lack of remote registration for sports betting.

Locals casino giant Red Rock Resorts, which operates STN Sports betting, has long been the primary opponent to remote registration. Company executives have pointed toward the millions of dollars invested in sportsbook operations, including the newest location at the $780 million Durango Casino Resort.

Even FanDuel partner Boyd Gaming doesn’t want to see the regulations change. 

There have been some cracks in the past few years toward easing in-person registration restrictions, notably comments in 2021 by MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle. However, that same year, a group of small Nevada gaming operators suggested the governor’s Gaming Policy Committee and state lawmakers approve any regulation changes. 

Nevada casinos saw a record $15.5 billion in gaming revenue in 2023 with sports betting accounting for just 3 percent of the overall total.

During Super Bowl LVIII, Kornegay said SuperBook customers from other states were surprised they couldn’t sign up for the Nevada app from their hotel room and had to come down to the sportsbook. 

However, Kornegay said he also knows gaming companies that invested heavily in the largest sportsbook operations aren’t on board with that change. SuperBook, despite the Westgate being considered a Strip resort with 3,000 hotel rooms, draws 70 percent of its business from locals.

“I think if I worked for another company, I might be saying the same thing,” Kornegay said. 


The Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix passes by the Caesars Entertainment-operated Paris Las Vegas Casino Resort on Nov. 17, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

News, notes and quotes

Caesars CEO on F1: ‘A phenomenal event for the market’

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg said revenue associated with the inaugural Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix benefited just two of the company’s Strip resorts — Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas — because they cater to high-end customers and are located along a key section of the track.

“It was less so for our mass market properties,” Reeg said on Caesars’ fourth-quarter earning conference call on Feb. 15. “Generally speaking, it was a phenomenal event for the market. We know this will be a better event when more of the city is energized, not just the four or five [resorts] that garnered the brunt of the benefit.”

Reeg suggested the ticket prices — some costing as much as $10,000 — be reduced to more “approachable” rates to attract a more diverse audience. 

“That’s going to be helpful for properties that maybe didn’t get to participate as much [in 2023],” he said.

***

VICI CEO says A’s stadium part of a ‘sports triangle’

Edward Pitoniak, CEO of real estate investment trust VICI Properties, likes the company’s prospects in what an analyst called “the sports triangle” — the land surrounding Allegiant Stadium, T-Mobile Arena and the planned Major League Baseball stadium for the relocated Oakland Athletics that will replace the Tropicana Las Vegas.

“We own everything inside that triangle. MGM [Resorts International] operates everything inside that triangle,” Pitoniak said on VICI’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call last week. MGM leases the operations for its Strip resorts from VICI.

“Las Vegas is reaching a global critical mass that no other place on Earth right now rivals, not Orlando, not Macau,” he said. “Las Vegas is a category of one.”

***

Hed: Vegas is not in play for Penn Entertainment

Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden was asked during a quarterly conference call with analysts if the company was still interested in operating a Strip casino. Penn, which has more than 40 casinos in 20 states, operates M Resort in Henderson, two small casinos in Jackpot and is the former operator of the Tropicana Las Vegas.

“There’s very limited opportunities and nothing really hot at the moment,” Snowden said.

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Gaming technology pioneer John English dies at age 60

Gaming technology developer John English died last week at age 60. English, who was working on reviving Bet LeRoy’s sports betting brand, was the managing director for sports betting and technology at Global Market Advisors (GMA).

“His mind never stopped working on finding ways to help bring someone’s vision to life and his passion cemented a renowned legacy within our industry,” GMA leadership wrote in a statement. 

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So you say there is still a chance?

“While we hear some skepticism around the A’s stadium getting financed [and] built, we don’t think the demolition of the Tropicana will occur without Bally’s confidence of the project proceeding.”

— Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas in a research note following Bally’s Corp.’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call. 



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