How Legal Sports Betting Is Slowly Infiltrating Stadiums And Arenas

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In the wake of the PASPA repeal last May, casinos and racetracks in states with sports betting legislation have been busy constructing state-of-the-art sportsbooks of various shapes and sizes.

Indeed, there’s been a clamor to create sports betting facilities to rival those found in Nevada and, in turn, drive patrons to properties. But could the next step in regulated sports betting’s nascent journey in the US allow sports fans to place wagers inside sports stadiums and arenas?

That scenario is what New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow is pushing for with a tweak to a sports betting bill he sponsors. If it doesn’t receive opposition and ends up as part of the legislation, in-person sports betting facilities could sprout up at Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden.

Upstate sports betting coming to New York

As things stand, sports betting has the go-ahead to take place at the Empire State’s four commercial casinos

  • Tioga Downs
  • Resorts World Catskills
  • Rivers Casino & Resort
  • del Lago Casino & Resort

Lawmakers anticipate achieving $400 million a year for state coffers from taxing sports betting.

However, Pretlow recently told Legal Sports Report that an estimated $10 billion is wagered illegally in New York every year.

Furthermore, sports betting at the likes of Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden would help stem the flow of bettors crossing the Hudson River into neighboring New Jersey. In the Garden State, it’s legal to place bets in person and with 13 regulated mobile NJ sportsbooks

Sports betting becoming ubiquitous 

Yet, regardless of what happens to Pretlow’s bill, Keith McDonnell, a Florida-based gambling consultant and CEO of KMI Gaming, is “100 percent” sure sports betting will eventually become commonplace inside sports venues.

“If sportsbooks are allowed in casinos in regulated sportsbook states, what is the rationale for not allowing a sportsbook solution in sports stadiums? None,” McDonnell said. “Providing in-person betting at stadiums can play a part of ‘game day’ as much as beer and pretzels and appeal to the customer segment (who) only (places) a wager when they attend the game.

“They don’t want to take it further by downloading an app, registering details and depositing funds. They enjoy the very occasional cash or card bet anonymously. It’s highly recreational.”   

Sports fans put their knowledge to the test

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings recently unveiled a “predictive gaming” lounge to coincide with a home game against the Chicago Bulls. Sports betting isn’t legal in California, but this game is the next best thing. Fans place free predictions on margin or victory, total team points, turnovers, blocks, steals and more to win prizes.

It’s also being seen as a possible precursor to full-blown sports betting in the Golden State. Likewise, during the March 12 New Orleans Pelicans matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, fans were able to play along with a real-time sports prediction game.  

Available to iOS device owners, HotStreak also lets spectators compete for prizes by making player-specific predictions relating to the action on the court.

A betting facility at Capital One Arena?

One vocal proponent of legalized sports betting is Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis, owner of the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

Leonsis has expressed a desire to see a sports betting facility at the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C. 

Leonsis suggested fans could come to the 20,000-seat arena before games to place wagers as part of the game-day experience. The multi-sports and entertainment venue, which attracts some 3 million visitors annually, underwent a $40 million upgrade last year.

Phase II, costing $15 million, is due to be completed this fall and will include a center-hung scoreboard. It will be one of the largest 360-degree video screens in sports. There will also be new LED video boards, more dining options, and renovations to concourses and lounges.

D.C. lawmakers gave the green light for gambling at sports stadiums and arenas in December 2018, although it has yet to be rolled out anywhere.

No-frills betting windows would create more of a “bet-and-go” experience. Sports lounges similar to Leonsis’s vision would encourage fans to congregate, have a drink and watch the action on large screens. The latter would provide a similar look and feel to the fantasy sports lounges first installed at some stadiums during the daily fantasy sports boom a few years ago.

William Hill’s lounge helps encourage mobile sign-ups

Last December, William Hill cut the ribbon on its 1,200-square-foot Sportsbook Lounge at Newark’s Prudential Center, home to the New Jersey Devils. While it is devoid of any actual betting kiosks, fans are encouraged to place bets through William Hill’s sportsbook app.

They can also check out live odds and action on the 30-odd screens and grab a drink from the bar. The lounge is open for all Devils’ home games and other events. It’s as much about signing up new mobile customers as it is about brand recognition and being associated with the Devils for the 85-year-old UK bookmaker.   

In fact, the benefits of forging ties with sports that are popular around the world could explain why casino giants like Caesars and MGM have inked deals with professional sports leagues and teams, such as the NFL, of late.

Potential pitfalls with betting at stadiums and arenas 

However, where betting is made available at sports venues, it shouldn’t be overtly conspicuous, particularly with children present, warns Richard Schuetz, former commissioner for the California Gaming Control Commission.

“If there are going to be lounges and betting windows, they should be kept somewhat away from the rest of the show. Many people see the attendance at sporting events to be an activity for the entire family, whereas many don’t (consider) sports wagering to be an activity for the entire family.”  

Meanwhile, Vic Salerno, who worked in Nevada’s race and sportsbook industry for almost 40 years, highlights another issue that would concern him. 

“The problem with betting windows is that it gives the perception that the home team is partners with the bookmakers and might have an effect on the outcome of the game,” Salerno said. “I don’t know if I would like to be a sportsbook ticket writer at the venue after a game that had a questionable ending that went against the home team.”

Betting at sporting events in the UK 

Across the pond in the UK — where sports betting has been legal for decades — players can find sports betting facilities at most major soccer stadiums and arenas hosting high-profile sporting events. These complement the 8,000-plus betting parlors dotted up and down the country.

Fans are also able to place in-person bets at London’s iconic Wembley Stadium. However, the betting windows are kept firmly shut for NFL games at the league’s request.

Yet, this does seem somewhat pointless when those 18 years and older can simply place NFL bets outside the stadium. Or, on their smartphones for that matter. (Legal online gambling has existed there for two decades.)

If states permit mobile betting, then it largely removes the need for fans to traipse to the betting window or lounge, queue in line, hand over their cash and stash the ticket in a pocket.

“I completely agree,” said Salerno. “Most of the people who are betting already have mobile applications that put them at the front of the line to place their bets versus sitting in a line and watching the odds change.”

In New Jersey, for instance, online and mobile sports betting account for around 80 percent of handle. Of the $320 million bet on sports in February in the state, around $258 million was gambled via digital channels.

Lounging and watching the action

That said, it isn’t always easy to get a mobile signal in densely populated situations like sporting events. More gregarious sports bettors would probably prefer to be ensconced in a plush lounge placing bets with hard cash.

Salerno also suggests lounges will help educate fans about regulated betting and deter those using illegal or offshore bookmakers. Moreover, though, they are bound to enhance the game-day experience for many fans, much like enjoying the concession stand.

McDonnell, a 20-year veteran of the gambling industry, said, “We have seen in the UK how having in-person betting at stadiums, for example in the Premier League, adds to the fan experience. It’s an inevitability this will happen in the US. It’s a nation that prioritizes maximizing entertainment value over everything else.”

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Julian is a freelance journalist who has covered the ins and outs of the global online and offline gambling industry since 2011.

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