Circa Sports Ready For DraftKings’ Eventual ‘Seismic’ Vegas Invasion

Written By Brant James on October 25, 2021 - Last Updated on October 29, 2021

It stands to reason that eventually DraftKings will bring its sprawling, consumer-consuming, mass-marketed version of sports betting to Nevada.
And when it does, one of the top national brands will be taking the fight, quite literally to one of the new crusaders of the old way of doing business: Circa Sports.

If DraftKings one day expands on its relationship with Golden Nugget and gains a license to add Nevada to its now 17-state-strong portfolio, that fight would happen in old Vegas.

The Fremont Street Experience might never be the same again. Neither would the Nevada sports betting economy. But it’s an eventuality that Circa Sports director Matt Metcalf doesn’t rue. In fact, he welcomes it. And he knows the gravity of it.

“I think it will be a seismic shift when DraftKings enters the market,” Metcalf said during a panel discussion at the Global Gaming Expo. “I think it will consolidate the landscape in Las Vegas.”

Related: Why Nevada matters to national players DraftKings and FanDuel

When will DraftKings and FanDuel return to Nevada?

Neither DraftKings nor national market leader FanDuel has announced the pursuit of sports betting licenses in Nevada, but the heads of both companies have espoused future ambition. DraftKings is signaling its intent so far with concrete and drywall, announcing earlier this month that it planned to build its second-largest national office to house a thousand employees in a 90,000-square-foot space in Las Vegas. Sportsbook director Johnny Avello, who spent 13 years at Wynn, remained in Las Vegas after being hired by DraftKings in 2018.

Still, the company and any other entity with designs on America’s ancestral homeland of sports betting would need a retail partnership to open shop in the state. The reason: Nevada law requires sportsbooks to be tether to casinos to attain non-restricted gaming licenses, as ZenSports did in August.

This is one of the many interesting facets of DraftKings’ deal, announced in August, to acquire Golden Nugget Online Gaming in an all-stock transaction with an “implied equity value of approximately $1.56 billion,” according to a release. The deal included a “commercial agreement” with Fertitta Entertainment, Inc., whose holdings include Golden Nugget casinos. Included in the agreement is “an expanded retail sportsbook presence.”

In a presentation to investors at the time of the announcement, DraftKings touted “Preferred market access rates through existing Golden Nugget casinos. Retail sportsbooks at current and future Golden Nugget casinos to be rebranded as DraftKings.”

An eventual return to Nevada would be redemptive for both DraftKings and FanDuel considering their previous experience. In 2016, then-Attorney general Adam Laxalt declared that daily fantasy sports constituted gambling and needed to be licensed as such. The companies still provide DFS platforms but used their massive customer databases to leap into sports betting after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was negated in 2018.

Metcalf confident in the difference he says makes Circa different, better

Circa Resort & Casino opened on Fremont Street in October of 2020 under CEO Derek Stevens, who appreciates the nostalgia and the business opportunity in rekindling old Vegas. DraftKings sidling up around the corner, and perhaps more importantly, through the mobile realm, would initiate a fascinating competition of methods. And a study in the tastes of Nevada bettors.

“I think a lot of the books in Las Vegas have been getting by for a long time … it was kind of going status quo and then catering to their customers who were staying in their hotels,” he said. “DraftKings offers a very good product, very large menu. I think the approach that everyone else is taking has led us to understand that we have to have a very targeted, very differentiated product.”

While DraftKings and other larger operators are spending upwards of hundreds of dollars per new customer in bonuses and free bets, Circa would need to foster its strength, he added. That said, a lack of a DFS history in Nevada may negate some of the advantages it brought to new sports betting markets.

“We can’t go after the customers that they’re going after, necessarily, to start with. We have to really go after guys who are almost a niche in terms of people who want to bet larger amounts of money, want more transparency,” Metcalf said, “really more of an educated, informed sports bettor at this point.

“That’s not to say that I don’t want to take everyone’s bets in the world, but I recognize that if I’m playing this game and going after their bettors, right now, we don’t have the superior product because of menu.”

How would Circa compete of DraftKings and FanDuel rolled into Las Vegas?

DraftKings currently dwarfs Circa in the number of live offerings available at any given moment. But local bettors are accustomed to the commercial model of wagering, when odds and offers updates during television breaks. Metcalf thinks the personal touch that has become the reputation of Circa will be of great value, too.

“I think we have value propositions in our limits and our customer service and our transparency. And in our odds,” Metcalf said, noting his belief in Circa’s superior golf markets. “We can give value back toward people who really know the sports betting space and really want to win money and want a fair shot. So that’s our process.

No, I’m not worried about DraftKings coming. I want them to come. If I can’t beat them, then I don’t deserve to be open.”

Matthew Holt, founder of U.S. Integrity said Circa is competing in the right way.

“Nobody’s going to out-promo DraftKings or FanDuel. Nobody’s going to out-menu FanDuel or DraftKings,” he said at Global Gaming Expo, “[but] if you can build customer loyalty, build up your customer service, then I think there’s lots of different ways to compete, head-on, in essentially what is their space right now.”

Whenever it happens, it should make for a new kind of Fremont Experience for Nevada sports bettors.

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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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