For the US gambling industry, 2020 was an interesting year on virtually every front.
Suffice it to say, there was no shortage of significant developments, but in this column, we took it upon ourselves to identify the five most meaningful US gambling stories of 2020. Among the criteria we used were current and future impact and overall interest.
So, without further ado, here is Betting USA’s list of the five most consequential stories of 2020.
#5: The Rebirth of Bally’s
Bally’s will be one of the most exciting operators to watch in 2021. It’s a late arriver that will need to carve out some market share, and it’s doing it in a Moneyball type of way.
Previously known as Twin River, the company has reinvented itself in recent years. The company has morphed from a small casino operator with a couple of regional properties in Rhode Island and Colorado to a significant player in the land-based casino market, with over a dozen properties in eight states. The company completed its reinvention with the acquisition of Bally’s, a once-mighty name in gaming, and subsequent rebrand.
Here’s a complete look at what Bally’s (nee Twin River) accomplished in 2020:
And now Bally’s is prepping its online gambling entry across the US.
#4: Gambling Goes Five-for-Five on the November Ballot
Gambling was once the domain of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Since the 1990s, the activity has spread far and wide. The passage of IGRA ushered in tribal gambling and fomented commercial casino gambling expansion. In 2020, there are legal gambling options in 44 states, and after a string of referendum victories, gambling increased its footprint in November.
Here’s a look at the gains gambling made.
Maryland Votes for Sports Betting
Maryland voters approved a sports betting referendum by a 2-1 margin on election night, setting the stage for the legislature to tackle the topic through enabling legislation in 2021.
The referendum was simply worded:
“Do you approve the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”
Now the ball is in the Maryland legislature’s court to hash out details like licensing, market access, tax rates, and more.
Louisiana Parishes Overwhelmingly Want Sports Betting
In Louisiana, sports betting was up for consideration on a parish-by-parish basis, and 55 of the state’s 64 parishes voted to authorize sports betting. The state’s big cities, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and Lafayette, were among the parishes voting in favor of sports betting.
As was the case in Maryland, the referendum question was pretty straightforward:
“Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of PARISH NAME?”
And like Maryland, the Louisiana legislature is now tasked with filling in all the blanks and passing enabling legislation.
Sports Betting Is Coming to South Dakota
In South Dakota, voters signed off on retail sports betting in Deadwood, the only jurisdiction in the state that allows legal gambling. Unlike the other two states listed above, South Dakota sports betting will be retail-only for the time being.
Virginia Casinos are a Go
After referendums passed in several cities, Virginia will soon become the 26th state with commercial casinos. The vote wasn’t close in the four cities where casino gambling was on the ballot, passing by 2-1 margins or better.
Here are the four locales and the proposed casino operator:
- Bristol = Hard Rock International
- Danville = Caesars Entertainment
- Portsmouth = Rush Street Gaming
- Norfolk = Pamunkey Indian Tribe
The Pamunkey Tribe is also developing a proposed Richmond casino that will be on the ballot next year.
Nebraska Joins the List of Legal Casino States
Nebraska will be the 27th state with commercial casino gambling after a trio of referendums passed authorizing casino gambling at the state’s racetracks in Columbus, Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, and South Sioux City.
#3: DraftKings Goes Public
DraftKings’ merger with SBTech paved the way for the DFS-turned-sports-betting-juggernaut to go public. In April, it did just that when it reached a valuation of $13 billion, well above the initial valuation of $3.3 billion.
The DraftKings deal and subsequent valuation caused a proverbial run on the bank as M&As (already a growing fad in the industry) increased, culminating in the Caesars-William Hill mashup in the fall.
But now the rubber is hitting the road for DraftKings, a company long willing to run in the red as it raised funds and looked towards the future. The new reality for DraftKings is a hyper-competitive US sports betting market and a life as a publicly-traded company. DraftKings came out of the gate at full gallop, but this is a long race, and at the end of the day, it’s results that will matter.
#2: The Barstool Effect
One of the companies DraftKings will be squaring off against is Penn National and its Barstool Sportsbook. Since Penn National announced it was acquiring the controversial company intending to make Barstool the face of its sports betting operations, Barstool has been front and center in the sports betting conversation.
The Barstool sports betting app is live in Pennsylvania, where it has gotten off to a very good start. With Barstool expected to go live in other major sports betting markets, 2021 could very well be the year of Barstool.
Love them or hate them, Barstool has proven it can be a force in the sports betting space and should be taken seriously.
#1: COVID-19 Shutters Casinos and Sports
There was no bigger story in the world than COVID-19. The pandemic has circled the globe for more than a year and taken a big toll on the gambling industry. But as it exposed some of the industry’s shortcomings, it’s also lighted a few paths the industry has been reticent to travel for many years.
Beyond a sudden full embrace of online gambling, the pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of cashless gaming and seems to have put an end to the idea of the silly notion of in-person registration.
A return to normal seems likely in the coming months, but the new normal will still have vestiges of the 2020 pandemic, and the land-based casino industry may never be the same.