LAS VEGAS — Sports betting represents just 10 percent of the total dollars spent in the United States on legal gambling, alongside traditional casino offerings such as slots, blackjack, and roulette, according to the American Gaming Association.
You wouldn’t know that from the four-day Global Gaming Expo that wrapped up last Thursday.
A mere tyke at four-plus years old, sports betting dominated the speeches and panels held in windowless, ultra-air-conditioned conference rooms and ballrooms outside the gargantuan Venetian Expo space, where the latest high-tech versions of old-school gambling were on full display.
A few sights, sounds, and takeaways from the conference:
▪ Breaking the predominant sports betting demographic of young white “frat boys” and bringing in more diverse bettors — particularly women — got a lot of attention.
“We’ve been an under-serviced segment,” said Meghan Chayka, co-founder of the ice hockey analytics firm Stathletes. “It’s been, ‘Let’s just put pink on a jersey and women will just show up’ or ‘Let’s just have a woman’s night where we serve champagne.’
“Now, this is an emerging market where we’re having companies make gear for us, companies looking at the demographics and creating content, having analysts that speak to these smart, savvy, educated woman fans.
“We’re seeing this demographic now being taken seriously, as I think it should be.”
Siska Concannon, co-founder of Affiliated Sports Fans, a marketing firm, said operators need to do a better job understanding their untapped customer base.
“We know that women represent 50 percent of the fan base, and we know that sports fans translate to sports bettors,” she said, “so we know all those things, then how are we going to reduce the, I guess, ‘intimidation’ of sports betting?”
Old-school bookies and sportsbooks present a barrier of sorts for women not confident in the intricacies of betting, said Concannon, but there’s an option.
“What online [betting] has done is created a space where people can take their time, they can Google if they don’t understand what the certain terminology is, and that’s just kind of part of the puzzle,” she said. “We need to make it less intimidating, through education, without being patronizing.
“As an industry, we need to start not necessarily moving away from the frat-boy culture, but certainly adding a little bit to it. I mean, it’s getting boring, right? Like, all these influencers do the same damn thing, make the same jokes, the same kind of frat boys. We need more diversity, we need more change.”
▪ Squashing the illegal market — those off-shore operations that consistently pop up with the most basic Google search of “sports betting” — is a high priority of the AGA. The national trade group estimates $300 billion is bet annually on unregulated machines, which translates into gaming revenue losses of $15 billion and tax losses of $4 billion a year.
“We’re standing up and calling out illegal operators by name,” said AGA president Bill Miller in his keynote. “They’ve responded by harassing and attempting to intimidate us. Our answer? Bring it on! They can’t stand up to scrutiny in the court of public opinion, and they won’t stand up to scrutiny in a court of law.”
Miller asked for help from law enforcement, for retailers across the country to remove unregulated machines, for tech and media companies to cut ties to the illegal sites and policymakers to enact tougher laws.
▪ Mind-blown moment: Learning about the “courtesy slice.”
That’s the slice made in a lime or lemon wedge that allows it to sit atop the rim of a glass, and the SupraCut 800 is, according to SupraCut, the only automatic citrus wedger (eight wedges at a time) on the market with that courtesy slice option. Factor in the slice, and the machine can spit out 64 wedges in 60 seconds. Without the slice, it’s almost twice as fast: 120 wedges in a minute.
▪ Right off the top of one panel, moderator Contessa Brewer of CNBC asked Boston-based DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, “Did you do a deal?,” referring to reports that DraftKings and ESPN are on the verge of a major partnership.
Robins was not caught by surprise.
“We have our existing partnership [with ESPN] already and there’s nothing else to really talk about at this point,” he said.
As for other plans, Robins mentioned DraftKings does not have plans to brand itself on brick-and-mortar casinos and that the company is more focused on domestic issues than increasing its international footprint.
Robins and FanDuel CEO Amy Howe expressed expansive mutual admiration for the way they run their businesses.
▪ Derek Stevens, owner and CEO of Circa Resort & Casino, on Las Vegas getting an NBA expansion franchise: “It’s not an ‘if’ question, it’s a “when.’ ”
Should the NBA expand by two teams at some point in the next couple of years, Fenway Sports Group —with LeBron James as a partner — is considered by many to be a leading contender for ownership.
▪ “RG” (far easier to say than “responsible gaming”) was a catch-word that the AGA and all the operators are paying increasing attention to as they use lessons learned the hard way in mature markets in Europe, which have tried to retrofit RG policies surrounding issues such as oversaturated advertising.
“If we don’t self-regulate as an industry, then you’re going to get regulated in ways that you’re probably not real excited about,” said Jay Snowden, CEO and president of Penn Entertainment, who said operators need to be compliant with the varying state regulations.
When asked by Brewer if casinos were giving “lip service” to RG, Snowden pushed back.
“We don’t want irresponsible gamblers in our ecosystem,” said Snowden. “It doesn’t move the needle from a cash-flow perspective, so we’re constantly trying to seek out those who may have gambling problems, which is a very, very small percentage of those who engage with our products or come visit our casinos.
“And that will never change. This isn’t lip service because online sports betting is new.”
▪ Aristocrat is a gaming developer that inked a licensing deal with the NFL allowing the league’s and team’s logos to be placed on slot machines. The Patriots and Raiders are the only two teams to sign their own deals.
Under and behind a massive walk-through helmet, some expo visitors were granted a peek at the machines. Despite considerable curiosity, the company did not allow media to go inside, never mind snap a picture, of the NFL machines’ exterior, citing unfinished design status.
It’s an unusual strategy to gain publicity, but in a backward way, it certainly worked.
▪ Massachusetts’s sports betting bill prohibits wagers on in-state colleges, unless they’re playing in an NCAA tournament. AGA senior vice president Casey Clark believes the prohibition will not work as intended.
“When you have a carve-out, that suggests you can’t bet on college sports,” said Clark. “It’s only perpetuating the illegal market. I don’t know that that solves for what we’re trying to solve for.
“On its face, it sounds like it’s a good idea. I just think if people want to bet on Boston College, they’re going to bet on Boston College. They’re just not going to have the opportunity to do it in the app infrastructure that they’re going to bet on the Patriots.”
▪ Who needs dealers?
A trend from the last few years has continued, with computerized, nearly all-video-screened craps tables, roulette wheels, and blackjack and poker tables, where the dealer is replaced by a computer.
Part of the thinking from the casinos’ standpoint is new bettors don’t have to sit near and perhaps get intimidated by more experienced players. Oh, and besides the technology allowing for hands to be played faster, the casino eliminates the pesky matter of paying a wage with benefits to a human employee.
Much of the floor space was taken up by companies showing off their latest massively sized video slot machines with high-def, eye-catching animated video, plus assorted “ka-ching” noisemaking options. A rock-paper-scissors machine stood out as something not seen before.
Some of the smaller exhibitors filled niches such as casino seating, biometrically verifying ID systems, digital wallets, and holographic gaming — bet on a restaurant table!
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.