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Gambling USA: The direction of travel

Gambling USA: The direction of travel

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The five years since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling allowing US states to decide for themselves whether or not to legalise sports betting have certainly flown by. Global society’s hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is widely becoming a memory and today, punters throughout the USA can now legitimately place sports bets within local land-based casinos or on suitably licensed websites and mobile applications.

There are currently 37 states in which sports betting is now legal, with active operations now taking place in 33 of these, plus the Washington DC federal district. Several further states are processing relevant Bills in advance of the coming November elections, with only a relatively small number holding out in staunch opposition. Whatever the moral objections to gambling, the huge potential state tax revenues, coming in the wake of the aforementioned costly pandemic, is an opportunity that state legislators with vast budgets to meet and electoral promises to keep must find difficult to ignore.

This largely irresistible ‘carrot’, coupled with powerful industry campaigning and a desire to move citizens away from dangerous illegal options, add an air of inevitability to the general direction of travel.

So where do we go from here?

The three most populous states in the United States are California, Texas and Florida, collectively accounting for over 90 million people. Of these, two – California and Texas – are in the Top 10 most affluent states, with California ranking second. At present, sports betting remains illegal in all three, with a court determination required in Florida and public votes in California and Texas. The likely conclusions remain unclear. Beyond this, a number of states containing college teams that compete in the South-eastern Conference remain opposed, despite fears of losing tax revenues to legalised neighbour states.

Despite the various forms of opposition, the safest bet is always to ‘follow the money’ and it seems extremely likely the number of states with legalised sports betting will be into the forties before too long.

Putting out the land-based fires

Contrary to some initial scaremongering, even from within the traditional industry itself, the arrival of this new market sector is providing the ‘shot in the arm’ that the US land-based sector arguably needed. Those who enjoy the status quo, and are instinctively resistant to change, have been convinced to cast aside complacency and up their game in response to this tidal wave of new opportunity.

The obvious appeal of the actual betting and gaming elements of the overall mix, to both existing and new audiences, means that their land-based counterparts have had to expand their offerings to include options that their digital rivals cannot match. This includes a broader entertainment ‘destination’ offer, increased focus on families and an embracing of the younger generations’ tastes for electronic table gaming and multi-featured video slots.

The post-teen ‘pool culture’ is also being actively targeted, with cabana packages during the day and big-name DJs packing out nightclubs and dancefloors through the night. Additional ‘visitor experience’ packages are now commonplace around sporting and other events, including boxing, MMA, motorsports and star-name shows.

On the flipside of this coin, some are experimenting with the adults-only approach, the prime example being the stunning Circa Resort, on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Combining fine dining with the world’s largest sportsbook and the unique ‘Stadium Swim’ experience, in addition to a spectacular casino floor, this is a place where the ‘grown-ups’ come to have fun.

It is more than reasonable to suggest that this positive evolution of the live, land-based experience may never have happened with such potency had it not been for the arrival in the US of the online genre.

Online casinos are inevitable

It is a simple fact that in the half dozen or so states where both online sports wagering and iGaming are legal, the former far outstrips the latter in terms of revenue generation. Initially, US land-based operators were reluctant to push for iGaming, fearing that it might draw players away from their casino floors.

However, as the potential revenue opportunity has become clearer, and they have evolved their core businesses as outlined above, their desire to enter the lucrative iGaming arena has grown. New partnerships between land-based groups and online specialists are now announced almost daily, and the push for further relevant legislation, based also on the huge taxation opportunity, is gathering momentum across the country.

Ultimately, if the unwritten rule about ‘following the money’ holds true, it is inevitable that as time passes more and more states will seek to legislate in favour of iGaming, justifying these efforts by pledging funds to much needed and costly public programmes. This is not a question of ‘if’, but of ‘when’.

Following the global model

However strong the opposition may perceive itself to be, simple logic dictates that the direction of travel for US betting and gaming is to follow what is increasingly developing into a worldwide model.

Responsible gambling is a universally popular leisure activity, and the logical and most widely beneficial end game is a well-regulated, well policed market that is sufficiently diversely segmented to accommodate all tastes and preferences.

In the case of the free-market economy that is the US of A, this will inevitably mean destination-focused and multi-disciplined land-based casinos and readily available online sports betting and iGaming opportunities for operators and players alike.