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A long list of favorite customs and procedures has both fallen and been invented in 2020 while we all wait for Covid-19 to hopefully pass. From handshakes and happy hours to giant buffets, we have come accustomed to temporarily losing some time-honored traditions. Unfortunately, so has made a sports wager in-person at a sportsbook.
Since March and the entry of the Coronavirus, not only have bettors shied away from wagering at sportsbooks but soon may not even have the opportunity. Numbers favoring online wagering on sports have steadily gone up to near-record levels approaching 85-90% of the total handle in states offering both choices. They include US states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where onsite sports wagering options have been available for almost two years with experienced staffers.
Before New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other select states including Mississippi welcomed the racebook into their casinos, Nevada was the pioneer of the Race and Sportsbook. And it certainly did not resemble anything appearing onsite in wagering facilities today.
Originating in the 1970’s, these were the days of pull-down chalkboards and erasable pen screens posting hand changing odds for both horses and sports teams. In a peculiar way, it looked like a professional model of how a bookie shop appeared in several old gambling-oriented films.
The major transformation occurred when landmark operations and “destination sportsbooks” appeared at large Vegas hotels including the Stardust, Caesars Palace, and certainly the Las Vegas Hilton. Today the LV Hilton is The Westgate, home of the Westgate Superbook, widely known as the most famous and previously largest race and sportsbook in the world. Their first-class operation now includes online wagering and has other locations in Nevada and in Colorado.
Locations including the Stardust, Caesars, and the Las Vegas Hilton (Westgate) Superbook were so popular in years priors to online gambling, that bettors planned their Vegas vacations around being there. Players spent hours inside while it was sunny and 90 poolside degrees outside to jockey for just a seat during weekends and then nights during a featured game.
I designated the Westgate Superbook as the “previous” largest sportsbook in the world. Circa Sports, part of Derek Steven’s new Circa Resort and Casino in downtown Las Vegas will lay claim to the title when it plans its grand opening on October 28. It will feature a three-story sportsbook with the biggest prize contests ever offered to players. Also, outside pools at the Circa Resort Hotel will have sports theme restaurants and the nation’s largest screens devoted to 24/7 sports action. In all, an opportunity to test both casual and full-time bettors to leave their homes for a unique experience.
Although not my intention, Tennessee is placing Covid-19 near the top of their evidence they see no financial need nor reason they should build any onsite race & sportsbooks within the state.
Actually, the number one reason is ONLINE wagering has more than proven the bettors choice thus far since PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) was overturned by the US Supreme Court over two years ago.
Amid a record month in September, New Jersey books took in $748.6 million in wagers, including $678.7 million through online apps. That is a staggering 90% figure! Those numbers were accomplished online despite several prime New Jersey onsite locations including the Meadowlands Racetrack, Monmouth Park, plus all Atlantic City casinos. Other states have witnessed similar results with online wagering dominating.
Even before Covid-19, sports fans, racetrack goers and casual fans were not packing these onsite locations to watch games, mingle, socialize, nor stare at screens. The virus and its implications will certainly now push them further away to perhaps the slots, casino tables, and restaurants once the wagering public fully returns. But as far as seeing a large crowd assembled to watch and wager upon a big game, it is an unlikely future experience.
Tennessee is planning to become the first US state to solely offer online wagering as a choice to its customers as they begin operation the weekend of November 1. Many questions involving their Tennessee State Lottery gaming experience loom as they set out with experienced licensed partners including DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel, and BetMGM. However, many other US states will be keeping a focused eye sharply on results of potential bottom-line success for their online-only sports wagering operation.
For both business and social reasons, many want to see the onsite race and sportsbook make somewhat of a comeback when it is safe for all to return. It will take a variety of creative incentives to accomplish that. Although the casino marketing gurus are the absolute best at figuring that out, they know it will involve some sort of financial motive for bettors. They will need some legit reason for players to leave their laptops and cellphones and drive (or fly) back to the sportsbooks, joining a cheering group rooting for their favorite teams. Or at least teams they bet on that day.
By today’s statistics, the image of the old guy at the racetrack with the Daily Racing Form and cigar will very soon be dead. Replacing him will be the vision of a multi-tasking bettor with a computer or cell phone tapping in his game wagers online. If not in-play wagering.
There must be some incentive, bonus, or firestorm, providing a bettor the motivating reasons returning to the onsite sportsbook post-Covid-19. I fear its rightful and welcome space in the casino landscape will soon be replaced with a bank of more slot machines. Or perhaps, the E-Sports Betting Arena.
Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.
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