Stateside I

’m getting scared…time is passing too quickly. Though it seems like only yesterday, it is actually a year ago that I told you about the sports betting excitement at the 2018 East Coast Gaming Congress (ECGC). This followed the US Supreme Court’s May 14, 2018 ruling

that allowed states to launch their own live, regulated sports betting programs. At the June 2019 ECGC in Atlantic City – my 23rd Atlantic

City conference – many of the panel discussions focused almost entirely on sports betting. After a year of planning and implementation, how are things going? What went right? What went wrong? To recap, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the Atlantic City casinos led a six-year legal battle that reached the Supreme Court. The Court finally nullified the 1992 PASPA law that prohibited sports wagering in 46 states, which had been legal in the other four. With such potential and contingency plans in place, some

states like New Jersey had prepared legislation. Current New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill within three days of receiving it in June 2018. These other states often used the successful foundations of New Jersey’s online gaming program to build their own. New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE)

Director David L. Rebuck said, “Over seven years of online regulation, we have constantly tweaked the program. Our baseline of online experience made it a seamless transition to add sports betting.” New Jersey’s sports betting has been a success, taking in almost $3 billion in wagers in one year, not to mention bringing new customers to the casinos. However, in this modern high-tech age, many players grew accustomed to betting online from other in-state locations. Reporting statistics show 80 per cent of those wagers were online. Others took a “wait and see” attitude before committing

and are still holding back. Some analysts believe that most sports betting programs will ultimately dominate in the Northeast and Midwest because of specific regional conditions. Those states that have opted out often cite potential competition to their tribal gaming operations while others just reject additional gambling. Low profit margins may deter some from investing. To date, states with legal sportsbooks report about $9 billion in bets,

10 JULY 2019

Sharon Harris looks back on a year since New Jersey went live with sports betting.

which reflects an underperformance from projected revenues in states like Rhode Island, Mississippi and West Virginia. In high-density jurisdictions like Pennsylvania, lawmakers consider sports betting a taxable jackpot that will help fund state projects. There are now eight casino sports books statewide; three online sports books will soon complete their test runs. However, the program has a potential downside.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Director Kevin O’Toole said officials recognize the pros and cons, but think they have it right. We’ll see. How about a $10 million license fee to get

started, combined with a high tax rate? Think that will work? After all, if high taxes are good, then aren’t higher taxes even better? No so fast, insisted Penn National CEO/AGA Chairman

Tim Wilmott. The 32-year industry veteran, whose executive experience includes his longtime tenure at Harrah’s, was most concerned. Wilmott labeled Illinois as the worst gaming partner because of excessive taxes and an oversaturated video gaming terminal market in taverns and truck stops. Years ago, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, now in prison for corruption and soliciting bribes, proposed imposing a graduated riverboat tax up to 70 per cent. Obviously, few companies competed for licenses. Pennsylvania is a close second for high taxes, but it’s a new

day. Despite its Pennsylvania headquarters, Penn and other companies are assessing multiple investment options. Few in high government positions get it. My dad, a real

“street guy” type, had a lifelong disdain for legislators. He sarcastically described their “infinite wisdom” as stifling business growth. I can only imagine what his opinion would be now about several current presidential candidates who know little about business and constantly promise higher taxes. The ECGC’s final CEO panel is always fascinating and this

year did not disappoint. New faces included El Dorado Resorts, Inc. CEO/President Thomas Reeg. Only four years old, the Reno-based company has made a giant leap into top tier operations. East Coast gaming personnel barely knew his name, but

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