ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Mobile apps might drive the future of sports gambling in the United States, but casinos are still betting big on physical sportsbooks as legal wagering expands to new places.
Lounges, bars and other shiny new spaces are giving casinos and other operators a new way to attract patrons for things besides betting on sports. It's a strategy long used in Las Vegas, where sports betting is dwarfed by betting on slot machines and table games, but new for places like Atlantic City or Biloxi, Mississippi, which until recently primarily relied on restaurants, shows and other offerings to keep casinos as fresh draws.
In some places, sports betting must be done in person, as many states have yet to approve mobile wagering. But the lounges also help build a company's brand and add one more amenity that a nearby competitor might not have.
In New Jersey, where mobile wagering accounts for about 80% of sports betting, physical sportsbooks are required by law.
But rather than treat them as a burdensome cost, Atlantic City casinos are investing millions into turning expanded betting facilities into draws for gamblers that want to bet and watch games with friends.
Caesars Entertainment is building what it says will be the largest sportsbook in Atlantic City at Bally's casino, a 15,000 square foot facility costing $11 million, as well as a smaller facility at Harrah's.
"We'll have sports betting here, but we'll also have billiards, foosball, 25 beer pong tables. It'll be like an arcade for grown-ups," said Phil Mazzone, the company's regional vice president of slot operations and sportsbooks. "Even though they have the online option, people will still come here to enjoy themselves."
Due to open in mid-June, the Bally's facility will feature a video screen nearly 100 feet long, automatic beer dispensers and even private "fan caves," with screens and video games for those precious few seconds a customer isn't watching or betting on a game.
Eight of the nine Atlantic City casinos have sportsbooks, as do two racetracks (The Meadowlands in East Rutherford and Monmouth Park in Oceanport). The Borgata is expanding its sports betting operations from a shared-space arrangement with its horse racebook to a new $11 million facility, and Hard Rock recently finished its own sportsbook. The Golden Nugget, Tropicana, Ocean Casino Resort, Resorts have all had fully built-out sportsbooks for months.
Similar expansion is occurring in Pennsylvania, where eight physical sportsbooks are operating, and seven online ones are due to open within the next two months. And, of ourse, Nevada casinos have operated sportsbooks for years when they were the only legal place in the country to offer single-game wagering. Their oddsmakers set the tone — and the lines — for virtually all the sportsbooks in the U.S.
Sports betting customers help account for an increase in overall casino business of 10 to 12 percent on prime game days such as Sundays or Monday nights during football season, said Kevin Ortzman, regional president for Caesars Entertainment.
"What's great about that is this is a new customer," he said. "Caesars and MGM have sportsbooks in Las Vegas, so we know how important it is to have an amenity to drive new business that we otherwise wouldn't have."
Resorts partnered with DraftKings on a sports betting lounge that opened last fall. Casino President Mark Giannantonio said that has boosted casino gambling along with food and beverage business during big game days.
"We have a whole new demographic of customers coming," he said. "We spent a lot of money on it, coupled with a sushi restaurant, but that whole area has really been energized for us now. We're seeing crossover play at table games and slots, and the sports bar is doing really well. March Madness was off the charts for us. It's been a game-changer for us."
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