The room was packed at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami for the opening of GiGse, just a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for sports betting nationwide.
It seemed the audience was hanging on every word of Joe Asher.
The U.S. CEO for United Kingdom-based sports book operator William Hill, Asher weighed in on many subjects. He widely discussed how the justices’ ruling makes sports betting culturally acceptable. He also offered views on problem gambling, discussing his father’s betting addiction.
The Supreme Court decision, that declared the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act to be unconstitutional, was top of mind. Asher said the ruling seemed to favor individual states being most qualified to regulate sports betting. He said the federal government should remain on the sidelines.
Asher talked from experience.
William Hill US operates more than 100 sports books and sports wagering kiosks in casino locations throughout Nevada.
On Tuesday, William Hill will help Delaware to become the first state outside Nevada to launch full scale sports wagering. The company and its predecessor Brandywine Bookmaking has been the exclusive risk manager for the Delaware Lottery since 2009. The state – one of four exempted under the now unconstitutional 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Waging Act – offers sports betting parlay cards.
“Delaware was our nation’s First State, so it’s only fitting that it will take the first bet of the post-PASPA era, Asher said in a statement. “It’s also where I was born and grew up, and I am honored to join Governor (John) Carney on Tuesday at Dover Downs, where I worked as a teenager, to mark this historic occasion and welcome in a new, exciting era in sports betting.”
William Hill is also front and center in other states, including New Jersey, where sports wagering is expected to be allowed once regulations are drafted.
At GiGse, Asher also raised concerns about the sports leagues pushing legislation that mandates betting operators using the league’s data in grading bets. He said any such legislation at the state or federal gives a “frightening power” to the sports leagues.
“I don’t think that is something anybody in the industry can support because they will have the ability to charge whatever they want for it and that’s not obviously healthy from any respect,” Asher said.
In response to an audience question about the need for a federal framework, Asher said the states can handle it and dismisses any concerns there will be any “regulatory race to the bottom.” He said Nevada’s Gaming Control Board has done an effective job of regulating the industry for decades and doesn’t understand why people think regulators in other states “aren’t smart enough” to figure it out.
“This is insulting to regulators,” Asher said.
However, he warned states that they need to do a better job of passing laws that make it profitable to operate sports books and force the black market disappear.
For example, in Pennsylvania – which opened its sports betting license application process a week ago – the state requires a $10 million fee and 36 percent tax on revenue, in addition to a 5 percent federal excise tax on revenue, far above Nevada’s tax structure.
Pennsylvania, Asher said, has a deeply ingrained black market. States, he added, don’t understand how “incredibly difficult” it will be to migrate customers from the black market to the legal market.
“(Slot machine manufacturers are) not selling slot machines to underground casinos. I don’t think people understand that,” Asher said. “They think we in the gaming industry are complaining about high taxes because it’s in our economic interest to do so without really understanding how it all plays out at the consumer level.”
Sports betting, post-PASPA
Asher said there’s not been enough reporting on how the Supreme Court’s ruling affects the existing stigma on sports betting. Now that William Hill US can set up shop outside Nevada, the notion that sports betting is bad has been removed.
“I do think over time the cultural shift will start to permeate throughout society, and you see the embrace now of gambling from the sport leagues,” Asher said.
Asher said he attended game two of the Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals. It would have been unthinkable to have a professional sports team in Las Vegas a few years ago. In two years, the NFL’s Oakland Raiders will relocate to a $1.8 billion stadium near the Las Vegas Strip.
“It wasn’t that long ago that the city of Las Vegas was not allowed to advertise during the Super Bowl,” Asher said. “‘What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas’ was not permissible advertising during the Super Bowl. To go from that to the Raiders is evidence a cultural shift that has begun, and I think it’s going to become more dramatic in the coming years.”
Asher said the industry needs to address problem gambling before any legislative backlash. It’s about the industry recognizing the problem and turning people toward treatment options, he said.
“Clearly, it’s not going to happen in the black market,” Asher said. “I speak with some experience about this because my dad had a gambling problem. I grew up around it, and I know first-hand the impact it can have on families.”
CDC Gaming Reports Executive Editor Howard Stutz contributed.