Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Atlantic City Gets a Warning

New Jersey governor Chris Christie is laying down the law on Atlantic City's casinos.  He is giving them the year of 2014 to make strides to improve their financial health.  The Press of Atlantic City story quotes Christie:

"It's obviously a critical year because we need to begin to see progress in Atlantic City or we're going to start considering alternatives," and, "It's a year when we have to show some significant results."

Can't be much clearer than that.  So, what happens if results aren't obtained?  Well, Atlantic City's casino gambling monopoly would be at risk.  Competing interests, such as the horse racing industry, are desirous of getting casino gaming at their properties.  Another lackluster year out of Atlantic City would only fuel that fire.

How Atlantic City will intend to meet this hurdle is to consolidate - reduce the number of casinos and to an extent, reduce the number of hotel rooms.  The remaining casinos would hopefully be in better shape as they will make more money on a per property basis, even if the result would be less overall revenue, from both gaming and non-gaming sources.  If not, the competing interests will want to move casino gambling outside of Atlantic City to make their venues more competitive with increased casino gaming in adjoining states like New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Time may be running out on Atlantic City's casino monopoly.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Common Sense: Casino Gaming Needs to Return to Cuba...Viva Casino!

Professor Nelson Rose, an expert on gaming law, penned a recent article entitled, "Cuba Needs Casinos."  In it, he describes past and recent history and noted how when liberalization comes to Cuba (it will, just a matter of time), that casino gaming and the revenues generated therefrom, will help bring Cuba back economically.

They had gambling back before Castro, but organized crime took in the lion's share of the revenues.  Now, with regulated wagering in place, all parties will benefit.  Notice that governments, even authoritarian ones like Vietnam and China, have casino gambling.  It is become apparent that the issue with gambling from governments is not the right or wrong with gambling; it's who is getting the money.  If the government is getting enough money, in its view, gambling is fine.

That fact bodes well for Cuba.  Proper regulated gambling, coupled with the great resort venue Cuba was, and will be again, makes Cuba an excellent bet for gambling reintroduction.  I'm betting on Cuba reintroducing gambling within the next ten years.

Another venue that is a great opportunity for casino gambling is Hawaii.  Why there aren't a casino resorts on Waikiki, Kona, Maui and Kauai is a travesty.  If Macao and Singapore are enjoying great casino gambling success, just think what success a resort venue like Hawaii would enjoy?  They do well now with regard to tourism, but add casino gambling and Hawaii would rival Macao and Singapore with regard to casino revenues.  This similar resort locale profile is why there was interest in opening casino gambling in Miami a couple of years back.  Sooner or later government will see the light and make a play for that revenue.

As gambling becomes even more mainstream, gambling will be increasingly viewed as a painless tax.  If locales like Havana, Miami and Maui embrace casino gambling, Las Vegas will have even more worries.

To check out more of Professor Rose's excellent articles, go to his website.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Jersey Taking Sports Betting Fight to US Supreme Court

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Governor Christie of New Jersey is not giving up on the fight to allow sports betting in New Jersey.  After the appeals court declined to rehear the case, this is the only option left for New Jersey.

I have provided my views on this several times, where I think New Jersey is in the right in this case.  Each state has the ability on their own to decide what kinds of gambling, if any, should exist within their states.

My view is that the Supreme Court will take up this case due to the controversy between federal and state powers, which is the kind of topic the Supreme Court was designed to handle.

Other posts on this topic can be found here, here, here and here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Tribal Casino Near San Francisco Offers Close Alternative to Nevada Casinos

Nevada casinos have been facing the threat from California tribal gaming for years.  Having a large property within an hour's drive from San Francisco ups this by a couple of notches.  The San Francisco area has around 11 million people.  Having a large gaming property within a 60-90 minute drive can not be good news to Lake Tahoe and Reno casino properties.

The Casino Journal reports "after years of planning and 16 months of construction, Graton Resort & Casino officially opened its doors to the public earlier this week. The $800‐million facility is the closest full‐service casino to the Bay Area, and ushers in a new level of sophistication and excitement to Northern California."  The property will have 3,000 slot machines and almost 150 table games, along with over a dozen restaurants.  This is a big operation and will definitely draw, in my opinion.

What is new is that with this property near San Francisco, this property might draw customers that would have traveled to other Northern California tribal casinos.  A previous post regarding a tribal property near a large metro area is here.  Do not be surprised if more tribes will attempt to build facilities as close as possible to the major population centers.  That effort might run into trouble with regard to on/off reservation regulations regarding properties, historical lands and the like, but with so much money in gambling, the trend is set.  Another post regarding tribal casino economic impact can be found here and a post highlighting the strong competition California tribal gaming is to Nevada casinos is here.

I've discussed earlier what Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos could do to combat this threat.  It is controversial in nature, but desperate threats could make controversial solutions more palatable.  To learn about what Nevada casinos could do to differentiate themselves from California casinos, read this post.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Quick Discussion of Aspects Regarding Pari-Mutuel Wagering

Pari-mutuel wagering in its application manifests certain peculiarities associated with the psychology of wagerers.  A quick article on this topic was presented by William Shanklin in BloodHorse.com.  We'll quickly discuss a couple of these peculiarities.

The first is that favorites tend to be bet less than their realistic chance of winning and longshots tend to be be more than their realistic chance of winning.  The reason for this is simple.  A longshot will pay more than what a favorite will pay.  So for a bettor, wagering $2 to win on a favorite at even money is less sexy than wagering $2 to win on a longshot paying 30 to 1.  It is similar to the phenomenon where people tend to buy lottery tickets when the jackpot gets high.  Bigger potential payouts generate more wagering interest.

The other relates to the relationship between field size and overall wagering interest.  Typically when the number of entries in a race falls under 8, the wagering on that race tends to diminish.  That is why racing secretaries try to have races with 8 (or more) entries to maximize wagering handle.  Another related concept is the concept of partition dependence.  This term means that people tend to think some event is more likely to occur if it is partitioned in smaller intervals. 

To describe, let's use an example of how many games the Dallas Cowboys will win this NFL season.  If you had just two intervals, 0 to 7 games and 8 to 16 games, wagering on this offering would be less than if you had the following intervals:  0 to 4 games, 5 to 8 games, 9 to 11 games and 12 to 16 games.  As you can see, this also tends to illuminate the concept that more entries in a wagering offering is better. 

There is a point made in the article that coupled entries attract less wagering interest than if each entry was wagered on separately.  This does not mean that coupled entries don't have utility.  In ProContest.com's pari-mutuel fantasy sports contests, coupled entries are used often as a Field/Other entry, in addition to large fields of players, giving players the ability to select any player, not just those specifically named.  This functionality, even though a coupled entry, does tend to increase field size/more partitions, which is typically a positive with regard to wagering handle per race.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Daily Fantasy Sports Contests Continue Rise in Popularity

The daily fantasy sport contest format continues to grow in both customers as well as companies providing the product.  With the growth of this product also came the claims from various quarters that these games weren't legal or at the least took advantage of some "loophole."  These barbs were typically provided by competitors not providing these games, or online gaming providers shut out of the US market, or typical naysayers who didn't like fantasy sports in the first place and had some other axe to grind or ulterior motive.

Regardless, the daily fantasy sports game market is growing such that revenues from this segment is on the order of one-third of the yearly $1.6 billion spent on fantasy sports - not insignificant money.  An article that tries again to stir the pot and create the appearance of uncertainty of the legality of daily fantasy sports games can be found here

Daily fantasy games have threats, but in my view they are not from the legal front, but from the competitive front.  The threats come in two ways.  The first is from the current large fantasy operators like CBS, Fox, ESPN, Yahoo, etc.  These operators currently focus on the season-long contests but don't have any barriers to keep them from offering daily games.  Once they do, the current leaders in this segment may lose significant market share and quite possibly be run out of the market.  The current daily game operators should keep looking over their shoulder because the big boys could enter this market whenever they want.

The other competitive front is from new entrants with an even newer and superior short-term fantasy sports game.  Current daily games generally have prize to entry fee ratios somewhat less than 2 to 1. So for a $10 entry fee game, the winner will win somewhere around $18, where the game operator keeps $2 for their expenses and profit.  The new daily game contest format can offer games that have prize to entry fee ratios as high as 100 to 1, or for a $10 entry fee game, could offer a prize as high as $1,000.  Since this game concept is patented, it can't be copied and the current daily game operators will have no easy counter to this superior product.  If you were a customer and for $10 could play two $5 games, each game having a chance to win up to $500, what game would you think they would play?  Right, a no brainer.

The daily game segment will continue to grow and is on the cusp of some very disruptive change.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Daily Fantasy Game Errors in Legal Article

An article in Gaming Law Review and Economics tries to describe the future of the daily fantasy format as an "unsure bet."  The title of the article also tries to portray daily fantasy games as exchange wagering.  This article by and large is weak and a poor attempt to challenge the legality of the daily fantasy game format.  The article is biased and references are "stretched and tortured" in order to fit the article's bias.

I'll discuss just a few of the errors.  The first is that the UIGEA created or enabled the daily game format.  The evidence used was that the UIGEA was passed, then the daily format appeared after.  The daily game format could have easily been fielded before the UIGEA and the UIGEA doesn't impact the daily game format.  If the length of time the multiple games that constitute the basis of a fantasy sports game could entail an entire season, post-season or in the daily game format, either a day's games or week's worth of games.  In all of these cases, multiple games are used as a statistical foundation for the fantasy games and it can be argued that the UIGEA took its cues from the reality of how fantasy sports games were played to create their definition and contouring of the safe harbor.

Another error is the so called admission by a fantasy sports operator that by not offering their games in certain states that is an admission of the uncertain legality of the daily fantasy sports format.  Baloney.  There are certain states in the US where there really isn't enough of a distinction between skill games, sweepstakes and gambling such that even the season-long fantasy sports operators avoid offering games in those jurisdictions.  If those states' laws are very strict as to what they define as gambling, no rational fantasy sports operator, daily or season-long, operates there.  To use that as an admission of the uncertainty of the legality of the daily game format is more than a stretch, it is basically dishonest and again shows the bias of the authors.

The last issue I'll discuss is the authors' "fantasy" about the daily games using mark to market accounting.  The daily games operate like the season-long games.  You select some players that have a fictional "salary" constraint such that you craft the fantasy team of players where the total "salary" fits within the constraint.  The actual games are played and the statistics generated by the players the fantasy sports contestant chose are converted to a single numerical metric or score, with the contestant whose team has the highest score wins.  To call that mark to market accounting in order to try and make a case that daily fantasy games are radically different from season-long games in dimensions other than just the timeframe is just wrong.

There is a saying that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not entitled to their own facts.

For those interested, the article can be found here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Appeals Court Ruling Against New Jersey Shows Path To Sports Betting

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit yesterday ruled against New Jersey in its attempt to implement sports betting by a 2-1 decision.  The case is now clear for New Jersey to appeal to the US Supreme Court.  Although a defeat at this stage, New Jersey can actually see very good news.  For the first time, a judge did side with New Jersey and against the US and the sports leagues.  The dissenting judge put forward a very well reasoned dissent that picked apart the majority opinion and showed in detail how PASPA was unconstitutional.

New Jersey does have the option of asking for the full Third Circuit to hear the case.  The information I received is that it doesn't do much for New Jersey to do that.  The first thing is that the full court could side with the majority, which doesn't help.  The second thing is that the loser is going to go to the US Supreme Court anyway, so why not go there now and save time and money?  That appears to be the path New Jersey will take.

The opponents of sports betting will take this as a great victory - not so fast.  From the majority opinion, this sentiment I found interesting:
We are cognizant that certain questions related to this case—whether gambling on sporting events is harmful to the games’ integrity and whether states should be permitted to license and profit from the activity—engender strong views. But we are not asked to judge the wisdom of PASPA or of New Jersey’s law, or of the desirability of the activities they seek to regulate. We speak only to the legality of these measures as a matter of constitutional law. Although this “case is made difficult by [Appellants’] strong arguments” in support of New Jersey’s law as a policy matter, see Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 9 (2005), our duty is to “say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). “If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.” Id. New Jersey’s sports wagering law conflicts with PASPA and, under our Constitution, must yield. We will affirm the District Court’s judgment.
So they pretty much put blinders on and crafted an affirming opinion based on a subset of the issues.  The court also just used the "rational basis" test and took only a cursory look at PASPA to find anything to say that PASPA was a regulation of interstate commerce, as opposed to Congress using a state as a puppet, which isn't allowed.  In other words, if Congress wanted to outlaw the sale of beef jerky, Congress can do that directly, but they cannot tell the states to pass laws to prohibit beef jerky or keep them from passing laws allowing beef jerky, while declining to do so themselves.  In the case of PASPA, they allow some states to have sports betting, but not others, which is even more strange.  They later in the opinion stated a very odd way of how a state could comply with PASPA:
Thus, under PASPA, on the one hand, a state may repeal its sports wagering ban, a move that will result in the expenditure of no resources or effort by any official. On the other hand, a state may choose to keep a complete ban on sports gambling, but it is left up to each state to decide how much of a law enforcement priority it wants to make of sports gambling, or what the exact contours of the prohibition will be.
We agree that these are not easy choices. And it is perhaps true (although there is no textual or other support for the idea) that Congress may have suspected that most states would choose to keep an actual prohibition on sports gambling on the books, rather than permit that activity to go on unregulated. But the fact that Congress gave the states a hard or tempting choice does not mean that they were given no choice at all, or that the choices are otherwise unconstitutional. See United States v. Martinez-Salazar, 528 U.S. 304, 315 (2000) (“A hard choice is not the same as no choice.”); see also F.E.R.C., 456 U.S. at 766 (upholding a choice between expending state resources to consider federal standards or abandoning field to federal regulation).
What does this mean?  The court is saying that New Jersey does not run afoul of PASPA if they ban sports betting or they totally deregulate sports betting.  So, in theory, New Jersey could simply allow sports betting with no regulation or oversight whatsoever and the US Government, sports leagues and NCAA couldn't do a thing about it.  That logic is insane and was properly called out in the dissenting opinion.

The opening of the dissent is well written and sums up what I believe the essence of New Jersey's appeal to the US Supreme Court will be:
I agree with my colleagues that the Leagues have standing to challenge New Jersey’s Sports Wagering Law, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 5:12A-2, and that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 3702, does not violate the principle of “equal sovereignty.” I therefore join parts III and IV.C of the majority’s decision in full. I also agree that, ordinarily, Congress has the authority to regulate gambling pursuant to the Commerce Clause, and thus I join part IV.A of the majority opinion as well. Yet, PASPA is no ordinary federal statute that directly regulates interstate commerce or activities substantially affecting such commerce. Instead, PASPA prohibits states from authorizing sports gambling and thereby directs how states must treat such activity. Indeed, according to my colleagues, PASPA essentially gives the states the choice of allowing totally unregulated betting on sporting events or prohibiting all such gambling. Because this congressional directive violates the principles of federalism as articulated by the Supreme Court in United States v. New York, 505 U.S. 142 (1992), and Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997), I respectfully dissent from that part of the majority’s opinion that upholds PASPA as a constitutional exercise of congressional authority.
This case isn't over and it is my view that the Supreme Court will take it up.  How it turns out is a matter of debate, but my view is that New Jersey should prevail.  It should be noted that a recent statistic indicated that 60% of the rulings from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals are reversed by the Supreme Court.  I think yesterday's ruling overall wasn't too bad at all for New Jersey and those wanting expanded legal sports betting in the USA.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Jersey Governor Optimistic In Sports Betting Legal Case

Cardplayer.com is reporting that New Jersey Governor Christie is just as confident as ever about his state's prospects in ultimately being allowed to offer bona fide sports wagering.  “I think New Jersey is going to be victorious ultimately,” Christie said Monday on the “Boomer and Carton in the Morning” show in New York, according to The Washington Times. "There is no reason why Las Vegas, the state of Nevada, should have a monopoly on sports gambling.”

The case is still winding its way through the courts and will likely end up at the US Supreme Court before finally being settled.  Given that, even if successful, don't expect sports betting in New Jersey for a couple of years.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Jersey Casinos Not Yet Offering Fantasy Sports Contests

Although New Jersey published regulations authorizing pay-to-play fantasy sports contests back in March, not one Atlantic City casino has of yet moved forward with an offering.  The reasons for this are discussed in the story, which can be found here.  The were two primary reasons discussed detailing why no fantasy games are yet offered.  One is that the casinos didn't see a successful path forward competing with larger, national entities such as ESPN.  The other is that this is summer and allegedly sports betting only revolves around the NCAA basketball tournament and the Super Bowl.

I'll quibble with both of these reasons, but first I do need to quibble with the article ever equating the concept of fantasy sports contests and betting.  Playing fantasy sports games is not betting.  Fantasy sports games are a game of skill and by legal definition not gambling, provided the games, gameplay and prize structures fit within the statutory safe harbors.  It is just journalistic laziness to refer to such contests as betting.

With regard to the reason that the casinos don't see an easy path to compete with a similar game to the ESPNs of the world, valid point.  The key is to find a fantasy sports game that would be attractive to players that the ESPNs of the world can't emulate.  Does such a fantasy sports game of that nature exist?  Yes.  We will discuss that later.  Not having a compelling game to draw patrons that would provide sufficient direct and indirect revenue to offset the cost of offering is a very valid point.  In my view, none of the existing fantasy games that have been considered have the hope of meeting that hurdle.

The reason for that varies on the type of game.  For the league-based season-long contests, the contests are just too long and the casinos rightly have figured out that they may be able to draw customers a few times during the year, but not on a weekly basis for an extended period.  For the short-term contests, the prize structures are such that the gross margins of these games are just too thin to satisfy the profit needs of the game operator and the casino.

Regarding the reason that the casinos aren't offering the games because this is summertime and there's no interest in sports contests for money is a crock.  Fantasy baseball is going on now and it is indeed quite popular and indeed people are playing for money.

So what kind of fantasy sports contest would have a hope of being viable for Atlantic City casinos?  Again, it would have to be something that would be attractive to fantasy sports players and perhaps even sports bettors (even though sports betting is not yet legal in New Jersey).  By attractive, that means a game that has a good prize to entry fee ratio (odds if we were talking about betting).  Also, attractive means that the margin of the games would be sufficient to satisfy the needs of the game operator and the casino with regard to profit.  No sense offering a game that costs more to offer than revenue generated, right?  The final nuance of attractive would be a fantasy game that offered some level of exclusivity, something the current large fantasy sports operators can't match.

Is there such a fantasy sport game available that can do this?  Yes.  YouGaming's pari-mutuel fantasy sports game is such a game.  Here's why:

First, the pari-mutuel fantasy sports game concept is protected by no less than 3 US Patents.  That takes care of the exclusivity element.

Second, the games can have gross margins that will satisfy the profit needs of the casinos and game operator.  For typical "daily" fantasy sports games, gross margins may vary from 5% to 10%.  Given the costs of operation, it will be practically impossible to have profitable games.  The pari-mutuel fantasy sports games can easily have gross margins in the 20% to 30% range, and can be offered in the "daily" format.  Now if you compare that to the theoretical margin on a straight sports bet, which is 4.54%, this advantage is substantial.

Third, the pari-mutuel fantasy sports games can also offer games with high gross margins while offering superior prize to entry fee ratios (odds if we were talking betting), allowing the game operator and casino to meet their profit objectives.

So given a game where one out of every five entries can win a prize, where the top prize is 100 times the entry fee, the gross margin of such a game is greater than 20%, and having a level of exclusivity for the casino(s) that offer it, one can see that this kind of game would have a level of attractiveness to Atlantic City properties.

Also, this kind of game would be attractive to offer in an online format to the casino(s)' customers.  Unlike some of the free play casino games used as a marketing tool, this game format can be offered online in a pay-to-play format, generating revenue and awarding cash prizes.  This offering of course done in a branded format.  The casino will be able to extend its brick and mortar presence with a revenue-generating game.

There is another potential advantage to such a game, but it will have to wait until New Jersey is officially allowed to offer sports wagering.  Such a game can also be offered in a wagering game format, which current fantasy sports games will have great difficulty doing, and even if they did, would not result in a superior wagering game to conventional sports betting.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Late Legislation To Legalize Online Gambling in California

A couple of bills in the California legislature are still hanging around even though there are only a few weeks left in this year's legislative session.  Stranger things have happened than having bills that haven't gone through the full legislative review process get passed in the mad rush to get the end of session work completed.

In this case, although it is possible one or both of these bills are approved, I am not overly enthusiastic about their chances.  Personally, I am in favor of online gambling, but I much prefer the bills to be fully vetted and edited, with all stakeholders and opinion-holders having their full say in the matter.

Here's an editorial from a local newspaper that shares the same sentiment.  I agree.  In California, the tribes have huge leverage and influence.  And the tribes are not monolithic in their perspectives.  The tribes do compete against each other, which extends to the political arena.  In general, if all the tribes are not in consensus, the likely and easiest answer is no.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gambling Superstitions

Gambling, like sports, easily is compatible with superstitious activity.  Certain outfits, such as a "lucky hat," are required before a person heads to the casino, racetrack or sports arena.  But in terms of gambling play, many other superstitions can be seen.  We're not even delving here into betting systems or schemes.

What superstitions have you run into?  Feel free, if desired, to add them to the discussion by commenting.

Here are some:

For slot play:
  • press the spin reels button as quickly as possible
  • count to 3 (or 7) after the previous result before pressing the spin reels button
  • only use your right hand to play the machine (even including inserting money/tickets)
For scratch lottery tickets:
  • scratch off the tickets in a straight-line fashion like tic-tac-toe (Tic-Tac-Toe gets me the dough)
  • scratch off the tickets slowly (slow and win, fast and lose)
 For card games:
  • Cutting the cards "thin to win"
For craps:
  • Tapping the dice on the felt before shooting
  • Setting the dice with the desired roll before shooting
What others have you seen?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Zynga Avoiding US Gambling Market

MarketWatch.com has a story commending Zynga for not pursuing the US gambling business, but instead focusing on its core social game business.  I agree.  Zynga (acutally any non-big US gambling company) is going to have a tough time competing against the big incumbent US gambling firms like Caesar's, Wynn, Las Vegas Sands, etc.  Zynga's core business has plateaued and is declining, so Zynga's push to rehabilitate that business makes more sense than trying to compete against savvy veteran US gambling operators on their turf.

That doesn't mean that Zynga can't look at social gambling or other legal variants of casino games or other gambling games in the US, just that it's probably better to avoid bona fide wagering opportunities in the US, that will require high licensing fees and defeating well financed competition for licenses that will be granted on a state by state basis. 

What Zynga can do is look at unique social gambling concepts preferably protected by intellectual property that can be scaled across the US.  That would be a much cheaper alternative that would give Zynga new social gaming/social gambling revenue streams, a national go-to-market path, without having to compete for licenses against very well financed and experienced gambling operators.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bally Buys SHFL Entertainment for Big Bucks

Bloomberg reports that Bally Technologies, a leading slot manufacturer, is buying SHFL Entertainment (formerly known as Shuffle Master), for $1.3 billion.  Bally, with this acquisition, is now a top-tier gaming vendor with a full line of offerings: slots, lottery and now table games.  There are some geographic synergies as well, allowing Bally expanded market presence.

Not sure about the price, but the thinking behind the acquisition appears sound.  Other slot vendors like IGT and Aristocrat should take notice.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

US Land-based Casino Gaming Revenue Still Not Back to Pre-recession Levels

The June issue of Casino Journal magazine included a quick story derived from the recent AGA State of the States report.  The main point stated was that commercial casino (brick and mortar) gross gaming revenue (GGR), the amount won from bettors, was almost back to pre-recession levels.  To support that, a chart showing those revenues from 2003 to 2012 was published.  At first glance, it appears correct.  However, these numbers don't take into account the impact of inflation on the value of those dollars.  If inflation eats away the value of currency, a greater dollar amount in the future may not be truly more money if compared to earlier years.

I took the CPI data from those years and adjusted the annual gross gaming revenue to equivalent 2003 purchasing power, to see how much of the improved revenues are due to industry growth, or just the inflation of the underlying currency.  Here's the chart showing both sets of data:

Sources:  American Gaming Association, Casino Journal, US Department of Labor

So, you see that GGR is higher in either case, but when taking inflation into account, not that much higher.  In the AGA published data, GGR increases at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.96% for the period 2003-2012.  That's not terrible given the recession.  When inflation is factored in, GGR CAGR is a measly 0.48% - much worse.  Gross gaming revenues are basically flat for the last decade.  That is not a sign of a thriving, bright industry.

Wait, there's more!

Going back to the 2004 and 2013 State of the States reports, the AGA reported 443 casino facilities in 2003 and 979 in 2012.  What that means is that in the last decade, the number of brick and mortar casino facilities in the US more than doubled, with overall GGR remaining flat in constant dollar terms.  Now do you see why the land-based casino companies are deathly afraid of more casinos and the dreaded online gaming operators?  If you have to spend tens of millions to a couple of billion dollars to construct a facility, how do you make back the money invested in an industry where profits are flat?  You have to take market share from competitors, who will not allow that to happen willingly.

In my opinion, those casino operators that have facilities the closest to major population centers will be in a much more survivable position than those located farther away.  I see this industry becoming extremely cutthroat in the future, particularly if online gaming becomes more established, further siphoning off revenues from the land-based casinos.


AmericanGaming.org. (2004). 2004 State of the States, The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment. Retrieved from: http://www.americangaming.org/industry-resources/research/state-states

AmericanGaming.org. (2013). 2013 State of the States, The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment. Retrieved from: http://www.americangaming.org/industry-resources/research/state-states

Anonymous. (2013, June), Gaming industry revenues almost back to pre-recession levels, Casino Journal, p. 8.

US Department of Labor, Consumer Price Index 1913-2013, Retrieved from:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Federal Online Poker Legislation Reintroduced

New York Representative Peter King has reintroduced legislation attempting to federally regulate online poker.  This version is likely different than the version pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.  His preference is to have federal regulation and licensing, but biased toward the large Nevada casino companies being the only companies to be able to provide the games.

My view is that if the legislation can't be crafted to lock in the big Nevada casino companies as being the only online poker operators nationally, no federal bill will pass.  The fallback for the large operators will be a state by state approach, where the size of their checkbook will buy the licenses, keeping out competition, particularly foreign operators.

Foreign operators would be better served by trying to enter the US market by finding unique US-based opportunities to be their beachhead and not take on the large Nevada gaming companies head on.

The renewed efforts do show that online gaming and gambling is becoming more mainstream and as governments look for more sources of revenue, gambling suddenly becomes palatable.

The story can be found here.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How to Help Horse Racing Industry Sustainability in the US and Canada (Part 3)

This will be a longer post than the previous two posts on this topic, which can be found here and here.  To continue, we've determined a good demographic for new racing wagerers and identified three groups that might fit this demographic.

To recap, what would be a good demographic for racing?  One that had the following characteristics:
  1. Younger, naturally...
  2. Cerebral (handicapping is an analytical exercise)
  3. Affluent (you can't bet money you don't have - preferably)
  4. Willing to risk money (that's the ultimate desire - someone has to place a bet)
 What kinds of people would fit this demographic?  I'd look toward the following as a start:
  1. Poker and blackjack players
  2. Sports bettors
  3. Fantasy sports players
We will now take a look at these with regard to the desired demographic as well as the ability to bring them to the track and convert or increase their pari-mutuel spend.

To get to the ultimate result, people of a desirable demographic placing new pari-mutuel RACING wagers, we have to clear some hurdles with them that act as barriers.  There are basically three (not in a particular order):

1.  Interest in RACING
2.  Ability to handicap a race
3.  Knowledge of pari-mutuel wagering

If we don't get a person to a capability in all of these 3 areas, the person won't bet in any appreciable amount, if at all.  You may say that we do this now with traditional marketing.  No, not exactly.  In the post that examined the various advertisements, which ones were the most effective?  The ones that had racing and wagering secondary to the food, beverage and social experience.  In other words, the party was the draw, not the racing.  That's why the cheap beer, hot dogs and music works to draw people to the track, but doesn't result in large increases in handle or persistent additions of a younger racing wagering base.

Inherently racing knows this, so the three hurdles that they attempt to clear with the customers in the "party" approach appealing to the mass market are:

1.  Interest in a party
2.  See some pretty horses
3.  Simple pari-mutuel bets where you have a chance to win something

There's a bit of a difference between how to attract a younger, cerebral, affluent, risk-taking demographic and the mass market.

So, racing needs to focus on the right demographic and move away from mass market approaches to just get people through the turnstiles at the racetracks.  With regard to the groups fitting the desirable demographic, the Horseplayers Association of North America (a pro-bettor group) did a simple survey on a chat board soliciting responses to sports bettors and poker players why they didn't bet the horses.  The post on that topic is here and the HANA blog post is here.  The three basic reasons were:

1.  Takeout is too high (remember the bets they generally make have lower vigorish)
2.  Conduct that impacts the integrity of the race (they think racing is fixed, if you didn't catch that)
3.  Not interested in the sport (no surprise)

So this great demographic needs to somehow get interested in racing, think they can win and learn how to handicap and bet a race.  Do you see how traditional approaches haven't been effective with regard to these folks?  The powers that be in the US and Canada aren't going to lower takeout by any appreciable amount anytime soon and they aren't going to do much about racing integrity issues except nibble around the edges.  As a result, interest in the sport shouldn't be expected to improve.  Appears racing is doomed, right?  Not so fast.  First a bit more background of what has to happen with regard to a successful conversion.

Assuming the new racing wagers have to occur at a facility (track or OTB), we have to get a person to the facility and then get them to make a pari-mutuel wager.  With the current situation, it doesn't seem like we'll be able to directly get a person to the track and bet the horses.  Like traditional racing marketing, can we just get them to the track?  Sure, we can do the mass market party approach or perhaps set up poker rooms at racetracks.  Unfortunately, we still have to clear those three aforementioned hurdles, even if those folks were playing poker at the track or OTB.

With regard to a potential path forward, I'm going to ignore poker players and sports bettors for now and focus on fantasy sports players.  Since sports betting is still mostly restricted in the US and Canada, there will have to be some legal changes to make that type of wagering widely available at racing venues.  Not so with fantasy sports.

The fantasy sports demographic is a great one for racing.  It is an $800 million industry now, with a total economic impact of over $4 billion.  There are approximately 32 million fantasy sports players in the US, 3 million in Canada.  The demographic is lucrative, being affluent, educated and approximately 85% male, 45% within the 25-49 age group, 53% with household incomes greater than $75,000 and 30% with household incomes higher than $100,000.  On average, they are about 15 years younger than the average horseplayer, making this demographic a fantastic one for racing.  A cool infographic on the fantasy sports player is shown below: