The US is now firmly in the grip of March Madness and college basketball fans are expected to wager $8.5 billion on the tournament. That estimate comes from the American Gaming Association, which surveyed 11,002 adults this month before drawing conclusions based on the results. It declared that Americans will wager $4.6 billion on brackets, and a further $3.9 billion will go on traditional sports bets. That would see the NCAA Division 1 college basketball tournament eclipse the Super Bowl and retain its status as one of the most important betting events in world sport.
Nevada sportsbooks enjoyed their busiest ever February as handle broke through the $450 million barrier for the first time. The books held revenue of $35 million for the month, which equates to 7.8% of the record-breaking $458 million that was wagered. It represents a 10% increase in the handle seen in February 2018 and it shows that Nevada is still clinging to its status as the king of the US sports betting industry. New Jersey has emerged as a credible challenger to its throne, but the Garden State held revenue of $12.8 million from a handle of $320 million in February.
Sportsbooks in New Jersey took a clobbering at the Super Bowl as bettors on the east coast backed the New England Patriots for success. Tom Brady and co duly delivered and the Garden State industry was left licking its wounds. There was more love for the LA Rams over in Nevada, and books there held revenue of $11 million on the big game. The state did suffer a significant drop in its Super Bowl handle this year, but basketball bettors more than made up for that decline.
Hoops fans wagered more than $250 million at Nevada sportsbooks in February, accounting for more than half the handle. The operators recorded a win of almost $20 million on basketball bets, and they can look forward to plenty more action in the weeks ahead. We are now approaching the business end of March Madness and the NBA playoffs loom large on the horizon. Baseball bettors in Nevada were savvier than their basketball counterparts, as books recorded a loss of $267,000 on MLB.
Rhode Island Going Mobile
New Jersey’s industry is less than a year old and it is already competing with Nevada for top spot in the US. That is largely down to the popularity of mobile sports betting – which accounts for more than 80% of revenue – and now Rhode Island wants a piece of the action. Last year it legalized in-person sports wagering at two Twin River casinos in the state, but it has now realised that online is the way forward. This week Gov. Gina Raimondo signed SB37 into law and the lottery-run operation will now move into the digital sphere.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello introduced the bill in order to make betting more convenient, and to generate more revenue for the state. “Expanding to mobile gaming would provide a convenient option for those wishing to enjoy this form of entertainment, and open up the economic benefits beyond the walls of Twin River,” said Ruggerio. “I can envision a group of friends from out of state spending an evening out in a local establishment where they can both watch the game and place a wager.”
Raimondo’s proposed budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year has accounted for $30 million from sports betting, including $3 million in new revenue from mobile. The lottery will continue to control the Rhode Island industry, run out of the Twin River casinos in partnership with William Hill. “We’re grateful that our customers will have the opportunity to enjoy our sports betting amenity in a new and convenient way,” said Twin River spokesperson Patti Doyle, although she could not yet give a date for the launch.
Ohio Preparing to Join the Party
Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia, Rhode Island and New Mexico all now permit legal sports betting after the federal ban was struck down in May 2018. Several states are expected to join the revolution this year and Ohio continues to edge closer. Bipartisan lawmakers John Eklund and Sean O’Brien have introduced S 111 and it has the support of Gov. Mike DeWine.
Eklund is not keen on sports leagues taking a so-called integrity fee, but he feels like the placeholder bill could take shape and gain momentum in the near future. “I think the bill is a darn good start,” Eklund said. “We’ll make every effort to persuade the chairman of the committee to start hearings on the bill very quickly. “I feel fairly confident that this will be the horse at the gate, so to speak, in the Senate. I’m optimistic and prepared to advocate for responsible sports gaming in Ohio so long as the appropriate consumer protections are in place.”
Tensions Flare at Sports Betting Conference
The nascent US sports betting industry has sparked a gold rush among operators that are desperate to carve out a sizeable share of this lucrative new market. British bookmaker William Hill already had a significant presence in Nevada – the only state permitted to run sports betting before PASPA was struck down – and it has emerged as an early pace setter. It works runs sports betting for state lotteries in Delaware and Rhode Island, and it is present in every state that has allowed sports betting (apart from New Mexico, where just one tribal casino has launched a sportsbook), with ambitious plans for further expansion.
Yet in New Jersey it finds itself very much in third place, trailing DFS operators FanDuel – now owned by Paddy Power Betfair – and DraftKings. It is a competitive new market and tensions are bound to flare up, particularly when you consider that Joe Asher, the chief executive of William Hill US, has previous with the DFS operators. He was vehemently opposed to them muscling into Nevada and declared they needed a license to operate in the Silver State.
Asher found himself on the same panel as DraftKings chief executive Jason Robbins this week and it developed into “quite the tiff”. Robbins launched the opening salvo when he declared that William Hill has tried to “restrict competitors”, causing a lack of innovation. He called Nevada “tricky because of guys like Joe running around telling people that we’re bad and need to be shut out”. Asher took off the gloves and hit back, denying ever saying that.
“Your motivation is you don’t want us to compete with you,” said Robbins. “Which is totally understandable. I get it. You’re not able to keep up with us. That’s the problem with the industry, people like you.” Tensions continued to flare as the two men talked over one another, and no impasse was found. DraftKings was the first to market in New Jersey and it has emerged as the top dog in the state over the past nine months, giving a bit of credence to his argument. The firm has now paired up with Caesars as it bids to seize market share in other states and it will be fascinating to see what fireworks are set off as it bids to get the better of William Hill and others across the country.
Kristian heads up the content and SEO team at Digital Fuel having worked in digital marketing for ten years. He’s as passionate about creative content as he is about Brighton & Hove Albion FC and when he’s not following football he’s writing about Brighton’s bustling pub scene.