Tough decisions around mobile sports betting being made in wake of coronavirus

Mar 21, 2020 |
Tough decisions around mobile sports betting being made in wake of coronavirus
The parking lot of the Westgate Superbook should be packed with March Madness bettors. But instead, the COVID-19 outbreak has shuttered Las Vegas properties and their sportsbooks.
Photo By - Covers Media Group
The parking lot of the Westgate Superbook should be packed with March Madness bettors. But instead, the COVID-19 outbreak has shuttered Las Vegas properties and their sportsbooks.
Photo By - Covers Media Group

On Tuesday night, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced a statewide directive closing all nonessential businesses for 30 days, in a precautionary measure to stem the Coronavirus tide. That meant all hotel-casino properties, as well.

That of course meant all retail sportsbook operators, too. But what about mobile sports betting?

That was the question some operators, including Circa Sports, had in the wake of Gov. Sisolak’s news conference. It was part of a two-fold consideration for Circa before it opted to keep betting available on its mobile app, even as the downtown properties it occupies – The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate – shut down in compliance with the governor’s directive.

“The first thing we did was reach out to Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Morgan. She approved keeping the app open as a functioning part of the business,” Circa director of sportsbook operations Jeff Benson told Covers. “Secondly, Derek Stevens is very committed and passionate to keeping the risk room open. We’re going to try to provide our customers with as many wagering opportunities as possible, while there’s not as many American sports to bet on.”

 

William Hill US likewise has its app running in Nevada, as does Caesars sportsbooks and MGM Resorts in Las Vegas. For the moment, though, all facets of the BetMGM app are running through the company’s New Jersey operation.

However, while Nevada books got a dispensation to keep mobile open, it wasn’t a slam-dunk decision to do so. In fact, a few Las Vegas operators decided to entirely shut down, led by The SuperBook at Westgate. Jay Kornegay, who oversees The SuperBook as vice president of race and sports for Westgate Resorts, said deliberations over a few days, followed by the governor’s mandate, fueled that decision.

“Jeff Sherman did a tremendous job, the day following all the league suspensions and the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, of just trying to find events across the world that we could book,” Kornegay said, alluding to efforts by The SuperBook’s vice president of risk management. “But it seemed like every time we added an event, we lost two. In our eyes, it just wasn’t making sense to remain open and offer the menu that’s available at this time.”

Wynn Las Vegas was the first major Vegas hotel operation to announce it was closing its doors, even before Gov. Sisolak’s directive, and sportsbook director Doug Castaneda said mobile betting was shuttered, too. Station Casinos, which owns Red Rock Resort, Green Valley Ranch Resort and a host of other hotel-casinos around Las Vegas, also opted to shut down mobile along with brick-and-mortar outlets.

CG Technology, with books in several properties including The Cosmopolitan and Venetian on the Vegas Strip, shut down all operations Tuesday night. But CG is in a very unique spot, in the midst of being purchased by William Hill US in a deal expected to close in late April/early May. So the Coronavirus shutdown, depending on its length, might very well mark the end of CG Tech.

The flurry of NFL free-agent activity this week – led by Tom Brady’s jump to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and the upcoming NFL Draft – set for Las Vegas but now no longer a public event – bolstered a couple key betting markets. Coupled with international offerings, that was enough for some operators, but it wasn’t adequate enough for others.

“Even with the NFL Draft and free-agent signings, it still financially didn’t make sense,” Kornegay said. “There’s a little bit more to it than just sticking a guy in the backroom. A lot of people don’t realize how opening up the mobile app impacts other departments: accounting, auditing, payroll.”

New Jersey operators such as FanDuel, PointsBet and DraftKings faced a similar mobile-app dilemma. But the New Jersey market is much more heavily weighted to mobile operations, with the overwhelming majority of wagers made online. And FanDuel, as one example, has an international partner in Paddy Power and therefore offered and was familiar with markets such as Australian rugby and Aussie-rules football long before anyone heard of Coronavirus.

Both those factors played into New Jersey mobile app suppliers – including William Hill US, which has retail and mobile in the Garden State, as does Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel – continuing to accept wagers.

 

Back in Vegas, although mobile is a popular product, it’s much more about the sportsbook experience, the bucket-list trip for huge events such as March Madness. So while Circa Sports - which opened for business last June - is among those opting to keep the mobile menu active, that’s hardly a substitute for a massive in-person betting event.

“It’s with a lot of sadness that we had to close our doors, especially given we’d recently completed the remodel and renovation of our new book at The D. Opening it Monday and shutting it down the next day was unfortunate,” Benson said. “But we’re heeding the advice of the governor. First and foremost on our minds is the health of our employees, their families and our guests.”

It’s equally sad at The SuperBook, which lays claim to being the world’s largest sportsbook and would normally be flooded with March Madness bettors of all types this weekend. Instead, the easy-access parking lot lays completely vacant, and the book is even more hauntingly empty.

“It’s surreal and eerie at times, walking around an empty property and empty parking lot,” Kornegay said. “I’ve been in the office over the last few days. We had to address some loose ends as far as closing the operation.”

That work finished, Kornegay and his peers wait out the long game, not knowing when their shops will fully be back in business.

“We are doing our part to ensure the safety of our guests, our team members and our community,” Kornegay said. “We’re gonna do what we can to protect our guests and employees, and do what we can to recover from this as soon as we can.”

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.

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