When it comes to the spread of legalized sports betting, I can’t help but wonder whether this short-term gain will result in long-term pain.
There’s been so much celebrating in the gaming industry and much of the media in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the federal ban on single-game sports wagering outside Nevada, it’s been hard to hear anything else. The sales job of the American Gaming Association was so sweeping and impressive that the voices of opposition were marginalized early on. It was an enormous victory for Gaming, Inc.
But the question in my mind is how long the party will last before someone is stuck picking up the champagne bottles and empty glasses. While it’s clear increasing the regulated sports betting industry – which out of necessity is centered in Nevada – can’t help but boost the business, I am left with the uneasy feeling that the era of the Las Vegas “super book” may be coming to an end.
It’s a hunch, but then so is the faulty logic behind most of my sports bets. Casino companies have spent the better part of the last generation reinventing race and sports books from cigar-smoke-filled men’s clubs set straight out of a Damon Runyon short story into places that look as sophisticated as the command center at Cape Canaveral.
The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book set the pace three decades ago, and now a stroll down the Strip finds enough big screens and computerized infrastructure to open a Fry’s electronics mega-store. Their presence has added a colorful dimension to casino layouts dominated by slot machines. And no one reasonably expects that to disappear any time soon.
But it’s also true that the future of the legalized sports betting industry, like gaming generally, belongs to the tech savvies who are as likely to watch ballgames on their smart phones on the go as they are at home on the couch. I suspect they’ll cast their bets that way, too.
Will Las Vegas find a way to stay ahead of the competition or become just another major player in a competitive landscape that soon will include New York, Chicago, Boston, and Miami? Because if there’s one thing history teaches us, it’s that allowing legalized, state-sanctioned gambling outside Nevada is an open door that gets blown off the hinges as other states get into the act.
One thing is certain: We won’t have long to wait to find out. The gold rush is on.
It’s estimated by Height Capital Markets that legalized sports betting will be up and running in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and West Virginia by the start of the NFL season. Take a moment to think of those massive markets and their histories of illegal bookmaking. If the regulated books catch even a healthy slice of the overall market – and no thinking person believes legalization will eliminate illegal sports betting – the handle will be staggering. We’re talking billions.
That’s just the start. By the time the NFL playoffs are being decided, Illinois, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Missouri should be cutting ribbons and accepting wagers. Those are enormous markets of players with long traditions of often tolerated illegal activity. In other words, more billions.
If the AGA is correct, and $150 billion a year is bet illegally in the country, bringing a substantial portion of that onto the legal ledger will be a game changer throughout the industry as a whole. It may even wind up propping up a sagging horse racing industry.
To be sure, Las Vegas-based companies will have an advantage in the short run. But the competition will be more fierce than ever with big-league players such as Paddy Power in the picture.
Since my hindsight has always been better than my foresight, I have to believe there’s a plan in place for the next generation of Las Vegas-style sports betting. But it makes me wonder whether we’re about to experience the end of an era.
One thing I’m sure of is that we won’t have to wait long to find out.
The future of sports betting in America is here.
Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.