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Though Future In Maryland Is Unclear, Legal Sports Gambling Picking Up Steam Nationally

September 17, 2018
This year, and specifically this football season, will eventually be marked as a watershed moment for American sports.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in May that allowed for broader legal sports gambling in the United States was the pebble in the lake. The ripples are just beginning.

By now, most fans are aware that states can elect to have "Vegas-style" sports gambling (meaning betting on single events and an array of other propositions) in casinos, at race tracks and off-track betting parlors, and even online.

So far, four states have joined Nevada in actually opening up such sports books -- New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Mississippi. A few more, notably Pennsylvania, are expected to follow.

Maryland?

Forget about it for at least a couple of years. A statewide referendum is required, and the next chance is November 2020.

But if you're a sports fan in Maryland and you want in on the action, cheer up. You might notice that a handful of states already taking bets on the Ravens-plus-or-minus-whatever-points are within driving distance.

For the Baltimore area, the closest is probably Delaware Park, the casino-race track south of Wilmington, Del. It's about a 70-mile trip.

The sports betting room is on the third level, a floor above the older race book and poker room. It's low-key, but there is seating for hundreds of fans, some bigger-screen televisions and video odds boards, plus a nice bar and restaurant overlooking the track.

Delaware and the other three states newly taking action have been in the sports gambling business a matter of mere weeks or months, and the exercise has been essentially a trial run for the real thing -- the NFL season.

Fans will begin to take notice of the emerging influence of betting as sports media increasingly turns its focus to not just who wins and loses but the business of beating or covering the spread.

In addition, wagering is beginning to turn the wheels of sports business. In July, the NBA made a deal with casino company MGM Resorts International that reportedly pays the basketball league at least $25 million throughout the three-year deal. In return, MGM gets to use the NBA logo in casinos and on apps and receives access to certain content. The NBA will also give MGM exposure on its platforms.

While that's all interesting, if you have become familiar with reading and hearing about money in sports news, it has probably occurred to you that $25 million for three years is (sorry to say) pocket change.

The flow of money, in all directions, is just beginning.

No one knows exactly what the illegal sports betting market has been worth, but best estimates have been more than $100 billion a year.

The wheels of government move slowly, so the rollout of sports wagering since May has been slow; Pennsylvania is a good example. But once the momentum gets rolling, it will be overwhelming and media will help it along.

Reportedly, at least one major network, CBS, will avoid gambling talk during NFL games this season.

Fine.

But there will still be plenty of broadcast, print and digital content aimed at sports bettors. I'm going to go out on a limb and say audience interest goes up exponentially when rooting interest also involves one's wallet. 

Broadcasters and publishers are gearing up to cater to that audience -- as well as the advertising dollars such content will attract.

Las Vegas casinos have the sports betting business down pretty good. Casinos such as the Westgate (the old Las Vegas Hilton if you haven't been to Vegas in a while), Caesars Palace and the Venetian -- just to name a few -- have sports wagering palaces.

It may take a while before casinos around the country are able to elevate their game to the Westgate SuperBook standard, but there's movement there, too.

The SuperBook, which has had respected bookmaker Jay Kornegay as its most visible operator, has said it has plans to take its brand national. That means casinos in other states might have their own SuperBooks fueled by the expertise that comes from running one of the largest casino books in the world.

What does that mean? Well, for starters, it may mean the SuperBook's season-long pro football handicapping contest will continue to grow.

The SuperBook's SuperContest (they like the word “super”) has a $1,500 entry fee. Contestants pick five games against the spread each week. Last year, there were more than 2,700 entrants. The winner got $1.3 million.

Now think about such a contest where the entries can be taken from SuperBook outlets in casinos across the country -- and may even include entries taken on computers and mobile devices within states that allow it.

Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Hard telling where all this is going.

This much we can be sure of, though: Sports wagering will continue to evolve and play a greater and greater role in how sports fans appreciate the games.

Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/PressBox

Issue 247: September 2018