Sports betting backlash; Indiana, Missouri rebound

When we were penning the editor’s note for the February issue of Casino Life, we predicted that overkill in sports betting marketing was ripe to bring a backlash. But it happened sooner than we ever expected. Now we don’t know if Rep. Paul Tonko (D) is a liberal but he’s certainly a do-gooder, having just introduced a bill in Congress that would ban all electronic forms of advertising for sports wagering. No TV commercials, no radio ads, not even Internet billboards. Anything governed by the Federal Communications Commission would be off-limits. Even if you’re sick and tired of Kevin Hart barking about “free bets” and want to hurl a brick through your 75-inche screen, this qualifies as an extreme legislative overreaction, destroying the village in order to save it—which seems to be the idea.

“Sports betting advertisements are out of control,” raged Tonko. “Congress needs to reel in an industry with the power to inflict real, widespread harm on the American people.” And no, he’s not alluding the gun lobby. For Tonko, the Pew Research stat that 20% of Americans bet on sports is an indicator of an out-of-control problem. (The American Gaming Association has some stats of its own.) More concerning, if accurate, is the cited 270,000 calls to problem-gambling hotlines in 2021. DraftKings is Tonko’s favorite whipping boy, as he notes its $900 million marketing budget over 2020 and the first half of 2021. (Fat lot of good it’s done the company.) Tonko objects—as we do—to disingenuous advertising of “no-sweat” and “risk-free” bets, as there is no such thing.

However, in a massive leap of logic, Tonko (above) equates sports betting with tobacco products, leaning heavily on the 1966 Federal Cigarette Labeling & Advertising Act. We don’t know of anybody who contracted cancer from placing too many wagers with FanDuel but we’ve been closely acquainted with many who have died from tobacco use. So Tonko’s leap of logic strikes us as somewhere between extreme and obscene. Hopefully, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R) and the Congressional Gaming Caucus can bottle this up in committee (although nothing seems to be off-limits in the present Congress). Either way, the industry has been put on notice.

It’s also been doing a piss-poor job of policing itself, relying upon the major leagues to apply restraint. At the local level, broadcast advertising for sports betting and Internet casinos has raged totally out of control. When that happens, Big Gaming is just asking for trouble, as David Rebuck of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement recently warned operators. If they don’t exercise oversight, he cautioned, state regulators will. (And recently did in Massachusetts.) That’s where the solution ought to lie, at the state level. Governments, by their very nature, tend to agglomerate power, and that is what Tonko’s jihad amounts to. We’d also like to see uncontrolled marketing addressed, but on a state-by-state basis.

The state of Maine recently proposed the following regimen, according to “Television advertising may only take place during an event and only on the channel that the event is being telecast when wagers on that event are offered by a licensed operator in Maine.” Sounds reasonable to us but the industry screamed bloody murder. It’ll be interesting to see if this trial balloon gets shot down or not. We agreed with former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (above) when he said, “I’ve been very encouraged by the way the states have regulated it. They need to continue to regulate it the right way, because if they don’t, the feds will try and get involved and that’s something we don’t want to have happen.”

In the meantime, take Tonko seriously. As in, very seriously.

As long as we’re talking sports betting, it should be noted that Illinois operators raked in $82.5 million in December, on handle just over $1 billion. FanDuel was well out front with $41 million. Then came the inevitable DraftKings with $22.5 million, distantly followed by Bet Rivers ($8 million), PointsBet ($3.5 million), Barstool Sports ($3 million) and Caesars Sportsbook ($3 million). Meanwhile, across the Big Muddy in Missouri, lawmakers are forming a circular firing squad again to consider sports betting. The idea has bipartisan support but could get hung up by solons who want to couple sports betting to other pet projects, like legalizing black-market slot routes.

While we’re in the Show-Me State, let’s consider its January gaming revenues, which rose 6% to $154 million. Though spending was flat, visitation was up 6.5%, driving the increase. Not even one less weekend day than 2022 could dim the luster. Ameristar St. Charles was only up a point but that was good enough for a state-leading $24.5 million. Nearby rival Hollywood St. Louis posted $19 million (flat) while sister property River City did $21 million (+10%). Horseshoe St. Louis continues to enjoy the benefits of rebranding, jumping 12% to $12 million.

On the flip side of the state, Bally’s Kansas City still gobbles up market share, vaulting 19.5% to $11 million. Ameristar Kansas City (pictured) made $15.5 million, a 5% improvement, while Harrah’s North Kansas City eked out an extra percentage point to hit $14 million. Argosy Riverside leapt past it, improving 15% to $14.5 million. All outstate casinos were revenue-positive, save for Century Cape Girardeau, off 5% to $5 million. Even construction-disrupted Century Caruthersville gained 6% to $3.5 million.

Indiana casinos did even better, up 7% to reach a statewide $203 million. Hard Rock Northern Indiana rode a 17% surge to a state-best $35 million. Most-improved casino was little Rising Star, leaping 19.5% to $3 million. The news wasn’t all good, as a number of casinos were revenue-negative. Let’s break it down. Horseshoe Hammond continued to cede market share, down 4.5% to $27 million but Blue Chip gained 5% to gross $10 million. And Ameristar East Chicago inched up 1.5% to finish with $16.5 million. Outside the northern tier, Horseshoe Indianapolis jumped 17% to $29 million but sister racino Harrah’s Hoosier Park faded 5.5% to $19 million.

Bally’s Evansville continued to prosper, up 16.5% to $15 million, whilst French Lick Resort gained 7.5% to $6 million. Belterra Resort was up 3% to $7 million and Caesars Southern Indiana sprang 16% to $21.5 million, best in the southern tier. But Hollywood Lawrenceburg missed out on the fun, down 7.5% to $13 million.

Jottings: According to VitalVegas, pink slips are going around Resorts World Las Vegas, with the entertainment department—the property’s signature—particularly devastated. This is the first serious sign of trouble at the megaresort … Scott Roeben also got a hold of a Mirage internal memo that lays out new rules for blackjack dealers. The bottom line is that the new regimen will be more advantageous to the house (big surprise—not). It’s too bad that Hard Rock International should make its Las Vegas Strip debut with a ‘stiff’ move like this … Finally, meaningless Pro Bowl week was profitable for one NFL player. Ronnie Rivers, a first-year running back with the woeful Los Angeles Rams, hit a $514,837 jackpot while playing three-card poker at Caesars Palace. Given that NFL contracts are rarely guaranteed, we strongly urge Rivers to invest his winnings wisely for his post-gridiron years. Enjoy Super Bowl weekend, dear readers.

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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