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Indy Gaming: Why Nevada now trails neighboring Arizona in sports betting

Phoenix’s large population and remote registration outpaces Nevada. Plus, looking back at a casino PR deal that ousted Mays from baseball — temporarily.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

For decades, Nevada was the nation’s only state where sports betting was legal. A Supreme Court decision last decade changed that. Today, sports betting revenue is just a fraction of the state’s overall gaming total. Arizona, our neighbor to the southwest, recently surpassed Nevada in the nation’s sports betting ranks. It surely won’t be the last.

On a personal note, happy birthday to my wife, Valorie.

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The ink wasn’t even dry on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that opened the door for states to legalize sports betting when predictions began surfacing about the Nevada market’s expected tumble in rankings.

Six years later, Nevada is not even the leading sports betting state in the Southwest. 

That distinction now belongs to Arizona. 

Just 32 months after Arizona sportsbooks launched sports betting, April marked the first month ever that they took in more wagers than their Nevada counterparts. Nevada sportsbooks took in almost $569.3 million in sports wagers through the month while Arizona operators booked $656.3 million in bets. 

Eliers & Krejcik Gaming analyst Chris Krafcik said April’s results will be the new normal for Nevada, which was the only state with legal sportsbooks before the Supreme Court’s May 2018 decision to throw out the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

“Nevada and Arizona share a border, but their sports betting markets are not comparable,” said Krafcik, who follows sports betting and digital gaming for the Southern California advisory firm.

Arizona, with its Phoenix metropolitan area population of more than 5 million — the 10th largest city in the nation — draws wagers from its residents, while the tourist market drives sports betting in Nevada, according to Krafick.

Also contributing to Arizona’s ranking is how residents wager: 99 percent of the bets are made through mobile apps. Arizona has a few in-person tribal casino sportsbooks and sports betting venues connected to the Phoenix sports stadiums that are operated by FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars Sportsbook.

The biggest difference between sports betting markets in Arizona and Nevada? The Grand Canyon state’s gaming laws allow for remote registration to sign up for online sports betting, while Nevada still requires prospective sports gamblers to register in person.

Growth of Nevada’s mobile sports betting business, which still accounted for 65.8 percent of all sports wagers in 2023, is hamstrung by the in-person registration requirement — most of the 38 states that have legalized sports betting allow remote registration.

Krajcik said Nevada’s lack of remote registration has reduced the sports wagering totals from visitors and has contributed to keeping the nation’s two leading sports betting operators, FanDuel and DraftKings, away from directly operating in the state.

Many Nevada casino operators, led by Red Rock Resorts and others with large sportsbooks, have long opposed remote registration in favor of in-person signups. Gaming executives have said they have invested millions of dollars into their sportsbooks, which serve as a draw for customers who also spend money at non-gaming amenities, such as restaurants.

They also point out that sports betting is just a small part of the Nevada gaming industry’s overall revenue stream — only 3 percent of last year's record-breaking statewide total of $15.5 billion. Nationally in 2023, sports betting revenue of $11 billion was 16.5 percent of the overall gaming revenue of $66.6 billion, according to the American Gaming Association.

But not everyone feels that way. MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle — whose company also operates a combination sportsbook, sports bar and tavern in Glendale, Arizona — expressed support for remote sports betting registration in 2021, calling the current system “arcane.” He has not backed away from that opinion.

Customers wait in line to bet on Super Bowl LVII at the Red Rock Resort sportsbook on Feb. 12, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Chris Altruda, who writes for the sports betting news website SportsHandle, suggested the Arizona market’s increase came from Phoenix’s hosting of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s Final Four at State Farm Stadium from April 6-8.

Nevada took in almost $8.3 billion in sports wagers in 2023, trailing New York ($19.2 billion), New Jersey ($12 billion) and Illinois ($11.6 billion) as the largest sports betting states. Arizona trailed Nevada by three spots with $6.57 billion in wagers.

However, Arizona’s sports betting revenue was $557 million in 2023, compared to Nevada’s $481.3 million, which was a single-year record for the Silver State.

With college football and the NFL seasons roughly 10 weeks away, Altruda suggested Arizona could remain ahead of Nevada, especially if recently launched sports betting apps from Fanatics and ESPN perform ahead of expectations.

Krafcik said the gap between Arizona and Nevada will widen if the status quo continues. He predicted the Nevada market would settle in the $500 million to $600 million range for annual sports betting revenue, with Arizona reaching between $700 million to $800 million.

Bally's Las Vegas, which is now Horseshoe Las Vegas, is seen on Nov. 16, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Atlantic City casino agreement kept Willie Mays away from baseball for six years

Baseball fans everywhere mourned the death of Hall of Fame legend Willie Mays on June 18 at age 93.

But do you remember when Mays was suspended from any association with Major League Baseball?

Following his Hall of Fame induction in 1979, Mays signed a contract as a “goodwill ambassador” for Bally’s Park Place in Atlantic City. The part-time job was to show up at meet-and-greets for charitable events on behalf of the resort. He would also meet with the casino’s favored customers for golf and receptions, but had no role in the casino.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, however, said MLB’s rules at the time forbid players, coaches and team personnel from being involved with gambling. He banned Mays from having any association with baseball and from the New York Mets, where he served as a hitting instructor. 

Four years later, when Mickey Mantle took a similar position with Atlantic City’s Claridge Hotel and Casino, Kuhn suspended the New York Yankees Hall of Famer as well.

In 1984, baseball owners hired Peter Ueberroth, who organized the Los Angeles Olympics, as the next MLB commissioner. The following March, he reinstated Mays and Mantle, saying they were “two of the most beloved and admired athletes in the country today and they belong in baseball.” 

Both former players continued in their positions with the casinos. Mays came to Las Vegas in 1995 to help Bally’s Las Vegas open its remodeled race and sportsbook. (You can read about that event on my LinkedIn page).

What I'm reading

🎰 New Lake Tahoe casino opening this summer — Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports 

Nevada gaming commissioners said the small Tahoe Nugget will be a welcome addition to Stateline.

💲 New Sands 42-year lease, without casino, proposed for Nassau County — Jerry Barmash, Patch News

The efforts by Las Vegas Sands to earn one of three New York City area casino licenses just took another negative twist.

🐬 U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Florida sports betting case — Alexandra Glorioso, Tampa Bay Times

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, through its Hard Rock Bet, is the only sports betting operator in the state. The tribe has six casinos and an online sports betting business. 

The Sphere in Las Vegas exterior lights up for a visual show on July 4, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

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