A new sports betting bill has been filed in the State House within the last two weeks, and it comes just as Wynn Resorts – parent of Encore Boston Harbor – has ramped up efforts to launch its new online casino and sports betting operations across the country.
All eyes are on the topic of sports betting this week as the Super Bowl unfolds amidst record numbers of people planning to wager on the game in areas where it’s legal, and that is followed close behind by the NCAA Final Four tournament in March – both big takes for the sports betting world.
Wynn Resorts has greatly expanded its existing sports betting book in Las Vegas over the last several months, announcing its new WynnBet online casino and sports betting operations last fall in an investor call, noting their first base of operations were in New Jersey and Colorado.
“We’ve been very focused on this topic the last couple of years, but we’ve been admittedly quiet about it,” said Wynn CEO Matt Maddox last fall.
“We have a strong casino brand, and we think that’s particularly true for us,” he continued. “On the sports side, we’ve operated our own sports book for many, many years. We understand trading and we understand what excites the customer and where the market is. We are working with a team that understands it as well as we do…You have to understand the market and what the customer wants and scale into that. That’s what we’re in the process of doing now in New Jersey.”
Since that time, they have mobilized and seized a great deal of market share in numerous states – with the hopes that Massachusetts would also approve the new wager and give them first crack at a model that could help them emerge after so many COVID-19 shutdowns.
Lynn State Sen. Brendan Crighton is on board with the idea as well, re-filing his sports betting bill two weeks ago with the hopes it can get some attention, provide needed new revenues to the state and help with the revival of properties like Encore post-COVID.
“Certainly sports betting is alive and well in Massachusetts, but is done thought the illegal market and over our state borders in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York and soon to be Connecticut,” he said. “Our goal is to get the consumer out of the shadows and into a regulated marketplace and make sure that money doesn’t go offshore or over our borders.”
Crighton said estimates are that about $6 billion is bet on sports annually in Massachusetts, and that would equate to about $61 million annually that the state could recoup in revenues at a time when COVID-19 is set to bust State Budgets for some time to come.
His bill would legalize wagers in person at the state’s existing licensees – which includes two casinos, a slot parlor, Suffolk Downs, Raynham Dog Track and Wonderland Dog Track. The bill also has an online component to it as well, and would allow mobile sports betting in the state.
The licensing fee would be $10 million to start out, with a renewal fee each year as well.
“If everyone we expected to apply did so, you’re looking at $70 million right there in licensing fees,” said Crighton.
His bill, unlike previous bills, would allow sports betting on college sports. Gov. Charlie Baker excluded college sports in his bill three years ago, and Crighton said some Massachusetts institutions have said they don’t want to be included in the betting world. However, overall, he said consumers wouldn’t switch from the black market or out of state without college sports.
“Colleges need to be a part of it,” he said. “They are such a big part of sports betting that you won’t get people to switch their app or come on over if you don’t allow sports betting on college football and basketball. It’s just such a large part of this market.”
An even bigger piece for those in and around Encore is the revival of visitors to the casino following an up and down year with COVID-19 shutdowns and occupancy limits. Crighton said casinos don’t make a killing off of sports betting in general, but adding that activity brings in more foot traffic.
“The revenue a casino brings in for sports betting isn’t going to necessarily be a game-changer,” he said. “It is a way to bring folks in for restaurants and shopping. That’s something we’ve heard loud and clear from the stakeholders. It would make them more competitive by keeping consumers in the state.”
Wynn Resorts’ Craig Billings said they had been examining how to best break into the market and found a great partner in the United Kingdom with BetBall.
“We scoured the Earth and we found a company in the UK called BetBall,” he said. “The founder and operators of that company, we had a great cultural fit…They understand it intimately and built the product in the UK to be very social. The engagement they had with their customers was really quite extraordinary. When you see your friend making a bet, it will pop up on your phone to ask if you want to follow your friend. It’s very parlay heavy and moves you into chat rooms fairly quickly. It’s quite fun.”
Maddox said they invested in the company in 2019 and began working on a U.S. rollout. Now, Wynn Resorts owns a 70 percent share of the company and call that section of the company Wynn Interactive. Last fall, they had 150 people employed and they have signed market-share agreements in several states.
Billings predicted they could have 50 percent of the accessible market share in the U.S. with WynnBet in the near future.
“It’s encouraging what we’re seeing,” said Maddox. “We will be rolling out this product in the various markets we have access to and we’re very focused on it. We’ve invested $80 million into that company to focus on user acquisition and continued development over the next few months. We’ve had lots and lots of interest from people…who want to be a part of it…We’re going to build an amazing product and have real business opportunity and rollout. We feel very good that while currently Wynn Interactive does $20 million in revenue, that number will grow at a very exponential rate as we move forward.”
Crighton said his bill is expected to go through the usual process and he expects a public hearing very soon, followed by it being assigned to Committee. This time around, he hopes there is more of an appetite for unleashing this new market in the state.
Crighton was one of the first legislators to offer a regulatory framework for legal sports betting in Massachusetts after the U.S. Supreme Court opened up the industry in 2018.