IGT’s Charles Cohen: Legal sports betting’s ultimate winner is the ‘American consumer’

TAGs: CAI, Charles Cohen, IGT, US sports betting’s Becky Liggero spoke to Charles Cohen of IGT PlayDigital, who sees “a multibillion-dollar opportunity” in a regulated U.S. sports betting market.

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To Charles Cohen, vice-president for Sports Betting at IGT PlayDigital, the sports betting industry in the United States has matured a good deal after the federal ban on wagering on sports events was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in May.

“It feels like a decade ago. Whereas this time last year, we were saying, ‘Well, if sports betting becomes regulated, maybe some casinos will be interested in it.’ Now, four months in, you can see this is a multibillion-dollar opportunity, and I think that not long from now, if you walk into a casino and there isn’t a sportsbook there, and pretty much any state in the Union, people are going to wonder why not,” he said.

Even though relatively new for the U.S. as a whole, foreign markets as well as that in Nevada provide a precedent. “The good news is that most of this has been done already in other parts of the world, and also in Nevada itself, so it’s already pretty clear that sports betting in the U.S. is going to be a casino-centric business, in that the default option is going to be retail, or what we call retail which is inside the casino or racetrack, and that’s going to be everywhere that sports betting is legalized,” Cohen said.

Cohen also saw potential outside of casinos. He said, “There might be a few states also who give the sports betting to the lottery, so you’re going to walk into 7-Eleven, and as well as buying your ticket for the Saturday night draw, you can also bet on your team, and that’s going to be fantastic, and that’s a model that we’ve seen a lot around the world, and Europe in particular. It’s very exciting.”

In addition to this was the potential of mobile and online offerings. According to Cohen, “There’s the added excitement that some states will also be allowing mobile on premise and then mobile statewide, and desktop. And look at New Jersey. By the time this goes out, the figures for New Jersey’s September trading will be public, and it’s the first full month of a reasonable number of suppliers. I think that everyone is going to be taken aback by the volume.”

He addressed concerns of demand fizzling out eventually. “I think, a lot of people, the next question is going to be is it sustainable? The answer is, it absolutely is going to be sustainable because this is something that people have wanted to do legally for a long time. It taps into probably the most powerful motivator that people have in their lives, which is their sport teams. It adds fun, it adds excitement, it’s a socially very acceptable form of gambling, and I think it’s just going to take off like a rocket. And online doesn’t cannibalize retail. Anybody who still thinks that clearly isn’t looking at the data. There are going to be a lot of winners. But the number one winner ultimately is going to be the American consumer,” he said.

While Nevada, along with Delaware, Montana, and Oregon, are now faced with competition nationwide, Cohen sees this as ultimately positive for everybody, with new entrants spurring innovation. “The business in Nevada has been fairly well-protected by the law for many, many years. I wouldn’t say it’s been able to sort of ride it out and be complacent, but they haven’t had the competitive pressure that’s come from other states. And at the same time, sports betting is about 5 percent of Nevada gaming revenues, so it has not even really been the most important thing,” he said.

Cohen is looking forward to developments as they come. He said, “Really interesting to me is going to be what happens at March Madness next year, because March Madness is the big in-person casino event. Anybody who’s been to Vegas at March Madness will know the whole city goes crazy for about a week or two weeks. What’s going to be interesting next year is it will be the first time that you will be able to go and do March Madness sports betting on both coasts. And that will be interesting to see what happens, because if Vegas sees its visitor numbers drop because people are opting to stay closer to home for March Madness, then I think that is going to start to show you that this market is all about the sports betting rather than the location, and that’s going to be quite interesting.”


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