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Indy Gaming: March Madness in Vegas provides sportsbooks with another betting bonanza

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how the events tie back to Nevada.

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College basketball gamblers came to Las Vegas for the start of March Madness and stuck around for an extra week.

It wasn’t because of a hangover.

Las Vegas sportsbooks have long been the foremost destination for the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship, when the 64-team field is whittled down to the Sweet 16 over four days.

Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon said those four days of wagering on 48 games represent 70 percent of the gaming industry’s sports betting total for that particular week.

“We estimate the first and second rounds is normally the highest weekly contribution of the tournament due to the sheer volume of games,” Beynon wrote in a research note. He predicted March Madness would generate $4.5 billion in sports wagers throughout North American sportsbooks once the men’s tournament concludes this weekend in Houston. The figure includes parlay wagering — two or more wagers tied together on the same betting slip.

But with the West Regional Championship played last week on the Strip at T-Mobile Arena (the first time Las Vegas ever hosted an NCAA tournament event) sportsbook operators saw an added lift to their cash drawers.

At the BetMGM sportsbook inside Park MGM, a short walk from T-Mobile Arena, fans from UCLA, Gonzaga, Arkansas and Connecticut crowded into the space to place last-minute wagers before the tipoff of their team’s back-to-back games.

After Connecticut easily handled Arkansas, Gonzaga’s last-second 79-76 win over UCLA Thursday night provided one shining moment for Liberty High School graduate Julian Strawther, whose 32-foot shot in the final seconds bailed out the Bulldogs.

On Saturday, Connecticut blew out Gonzaga 82-54 to earn a trip to the Final Four.

The games didn’t disappoint fans or sportsbook operators.

Fans from the participating schools congregated along T-Mobile Plaza before entering the arena to take photos. Even Las Vegas visitors attending the games were drawn to the plaza by the overall atmosphere and replicas of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign and March Madness logos.

Beynon said the tournament translates to 30 percent of the wagering figures for sportsbooks in March and around 10 percent for April.

March Madness bettors line up at the BetMGM sportsbook inside Park MGM before the NCAA West Regional games at nearby T-Mobile Arena on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The percentages may be skewed in Las Vegas, which has long hosted college basketball conference championship tournaments during March. The events help determine the teams qualifying for one of the 64 places in the tournament bracket.

The NCAA, which had long tried to distance college athletics from sports betting, stayed silent as the number of conference tournaments in Las Vegas increased.

This year, Las Vegas hosted tournaments for the Pac-12 at T-Mobile, the Mountain West at Thomas & Mack Center and the WAC championships at the Orleans Arena. For the second straight year, the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson hosted the Big West.

With legal sports betting now active in 33 states, the NCAA has changed its position on sports betting and Las Vegas. Nonconference college football games are played annually at Allegiant Stadium and the NCAA announced last year the 65,000-seat venue would host the Final Four in 2028.

But the tournament coming to Vegas won’t mark the first time the Final Four is held in a city with legal sports betting. That honor went to Indianapolis in 2021 — the same city as the headquarters for the NCAA. Last year’s Final Four was at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. The Final Four will be played in two other states with sports betting — Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium in 2026 and Ford Field in Detroit in 2027 — before arriving in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Steve Hill told the Associated Press that the nationwide expansion of sports betting mellowed the NCAA’s opposition to Las Vegas, which percolated during the 1970s and 1980s when the college governing body fought for years with the late UNLV Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian.

“Thirty years ago in the Tarkanian era, I’m sure they were pretty skeptical of Las Vegas,” Hill said. “I think as time passed, they probably mellowed. We’ve had conference tournaments here and we’ve had a real partnership, it feels like now, that didn’t exist before the change in the law.”

Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball, said the growth of the conference tournaments softened the opposition to Las Vegas.

“That was the impetus,” he told the Associated Press. “Once that changed, we were excited from a basketball championships perspective to bring March Madness to such a great city that has embraced college basketball with conference championships for some time.”

Caesars Entertainment Executive Chairman Gary Carano, right, shares a moment with Poker Hall of Fame legend Doyle Brunson (seated) and former casino operator Jack Binion, center, during the rebranding celebration at Horseshoe Las Vegas, formerly Bally’s Las Vegas, on Friday, March 24, 2023. Also pictured (left to right) are Caesars Regional President Sean McBurney, sports gambler Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and Caesars President Anthony Carano. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Jack Binion and ‘Texas Dolly’ help christen Horseshoe Las Vegas

Two gaming legends, Jack Binion and Doyle Brunson, who made the name Horseshoe synonymous with downtown Las Vegas, helped welcome the brand to the Las Vegas Strip.

As of last week, Bally’s Las Vegas is officially Horseshoe Las Vegas after a nearly year-long rebranding by Caesars Entertainment.

Binion, whose father Benny Binion opened the original Horseshoe Club in downtown Las Vegas in 1951, took the Horseshoe name into the Midwest in the 1990s before selling Horseshoe Gaming to Harrah’s Entertainment — the predecessor to Caesars — for $1.45 billion in 2004. Caesars now has 10 properties under the Horseshoe brand.

The steakhouse at Horseshoe Las Vegas bears Jack Binion’s name.

Horseshoe Las Vegas is home to the World Series of Poker, the tournament where Brunson, known as “Texas Dolly,” became a poker icon. He twice won the World Series of Poker’s Main Event when it was held at the downtown Horseshoe.

The 2,800-room Horseshoe ends a 38-year run for Bally’s Las Vegas. The hotel casino was the original MGM Grand Las Vegas when it was opened by gaming pioneer Kirk Kerkorian in 1973. At the time, it was considered one of the world’s largest hotels.

The MGM Grand fire on Nov. 21, 1980, remains one of the worst high-rise fires in U.S. history, killing 89 people. The building reopened nine months later and the fire led to the creation of the toughest fire-safety regulation reforms in the country.

The former Bally Manufacturing bought MGM Grand Las Vegas and MGM Reno in 1985 for $550 million. The properties were rebranded as Bally’s. The Reno property is now the Grand Sierra Resort and is owned by Sahara owner Alex Meruelo.

People walk along the slot floor of the Mohegan Casino Las Vegas on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Casinos contribute more than half of nation’s $157B in 2022 gaming revenue

When it comes to U.S. gambling activities, casinos are still king, according to a report by Southern California advisory firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

Gaming operators collected nearly $157 billion in gaming revenue in 2022, a 7.5 percent increase from 2021. The firm compiled figures from 12 gaming categories.

Tribal and commercial casinos combined for $91 billion in gaming revenue in 2022, 58 percent of the total. The figure rose to $98 billion, or 63 percent of the overall figure, when certain retail and online gaming activities associated with casinos were factored into the mix.

There were 33 states with commercial casinos and 29 states with tribal casinos in 2022, according to the American Gaming Association. The Washington, D.C., trade organization said there are 14 states, including Nevada, with both commercial and tribal casinos.

Commercial casino revenue of $48.7 billion increased by 6.7 percent in 2022. Tribal casino revenue of $42.3 billion was a 6.6 percent increase over 2021.

Lotteries in 45 states combined for $35.5 billion in revenue in 2022, 23 percent of the overall total and the third-largest contributor behind commercial and tribal casinos. However, lottery revenue was down 1.3 percent from 2021.

Eilers & Krejcik principal Todd Eilers said the surprising figure was the combined revenue of $14.6 billion produced by online gaming. The total from casinos, poker, sports betting, internet lotteries and pari-mutuel racing was 9 percent of the overall total, up from 7 percent a year ago.

The firm broke out sports betting and found retail locations saw a 1.5 percent decline in revenue to $712 million. Online sports betting far exceeded physical sportsbooks with revenue of $6.9 billion in 2022, up 90.5 percent compared to 2021.  

Revenue from U.S. slot machine route operations was $8.3 billion, an increase of 3.4 percent from 2021.

Eilers said revenue from Nevada routes was included in the total but the undisclosed figure was based on estimates. The Nevada Gaming Control Board does not break out revenue totals for restricted gaming operations, which cover locations with 15 or fewer slot machines.

Wynn Resorts CEO Craig Billings makes a point during an interview at Wynn Las Vegas on June 28, 2022. (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

Wynn project in UAE names contractors, preconstruction activity has begun

Wynn Resorts and its partners have hired contractors to begin work on a $2 billion integrated resort complex on the man-made Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). With a scheduled 2027 opening, Wynn is on track to operate the first casino in the UAE.

In a statement, the Las Vegas-based casino operator said ALEC Engineering and Contracting is the main construction contractor and Bauer International has begun construction preparation by driving the pilings that will support the buildings.

Wynn CEO Craig Billings did not provide a comment for the announcement, but Abdulla Abdooli, CEO of Marjan, the property’s master developer, said the project is the largest in Ras Al Khaimah’s hospitality sector. 

“ALEC Engineering and Bauer International will ensure the timely completion of the integrated Wynn Resort,” Abdooli said.

On Wynn’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call on Feb. 8, Billings said he hoped to share renderings of the project in the next few months.

“The more time we spend in that market, the more confident we are in the project,” he said.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent last summer, Billings said the Ras Al Khaimah project would put “95 percent of the world's population within an eight-hour flight of the Wynn brand.” He said the international airport in nearby Dubai sees more than 80 million passengers a year.

Brin Gibson, then-chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, during a suitably hearing for FanDuel on Aug. 10, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)


Via Vixio-Gambling Compliance

Former Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson can’t represent clients in front of state gaming regulators for a year due to the state’s cooling-off laws. But the rule doesn’t stretch to Texas. Gibson, an attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Las Vegas, testified in Austin last week on behalf of Las Vegas Sands, which is backing a casino legalization effort. 

Gibson urged a Texas House committee to pass legislation supporting destination resort casinos and sports betting. He backed “a distillation” of the Nevada Gaming Control Act to create a Texas Gaming Commission. Gibson said a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) effort to expand tribal gaming in Texas was unlikely to lead to widespread sports betting by tribes.

“The governor will still have the power to approve [gambling] compacts and he could negotiate separate compacts with each of the three tribes.”

-          Las Vegas attorney Brin Gibson

Via press release from Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. opened the hiring process for the nearly $2.2 billion MSG Sphere at The Venetian, an entertainment venue expected to open in September. The company is looking to fill 3,000 jobs covering kitchen workers, cooks, utility porters, ushers, guest service representatives, retail, security and bartenders. Applicants are encouraged to visit to learn more about current openings and to apply online.

“Attending an event at Sphere will be an experience unlike anything that exists anywhere in the world. To deliver on that promise, we’ll be hiring up to 3,000 ambitious employees for our venue operations team opening Sphere – truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

-          Raul Gutierrez, general manager, MSG Sphere.


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