New Mexico will become the next US state to offer sports wagering when Santa Ana Star Casino opens a shiny new sportsbook on Tuesday, October 16. The tribal casino serves the Albuquerque market and it has emerged as one of the top three operators in the state. It wants to diversify its offering, so it has appointed Nevada-based operator USBookmaking to run a physical sportsbook at its resort. New Mexico will join Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi and West Virginia in offering sports betting in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.
Everyone expected Pennsylvania, Rhode Island or Illinois to be the next state to gain a regulated sportsbook, but New Mexico has seemingly caught the industry by surprise, broken away from the pack and steamed ahead. There appears to be no regulatory agency standing in Santa Ana Star Casino’s way. The State Tribal Gaming Compact of 2015 between New Mexico and 17 tribes allows for the tribal casinos to have Class III gaming “on Indian Lands”. It does not specifically mention sports wagering, but it is covered by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which does include sports betting, and the Attorney General said it would not block the casino’s plans.
“Sports betting at the Santa Ana Star Casino is governed by the Pueblo of Santa Ana Gaming Regulatory Commission,” said David Carl, press secretary for the Office of the Attorney General. “As such, we will closely monitor New Mexico’s tribal gaming compacts and work with the legislature for proper statutory and regulatory oversight to require responsible gaming and enhanced integrity to create an even playing field for all.”
USBookmaking provides sports betting operations for sportsbooks in Nevada and it is headed up by Vic Salerno, who served as chairman of William Hill US from 2012 to 2016. “We have found that there is tremendous demand for a Nevada-style retail sports book operation in a multitude of casinos throughout the US,” he said. “We specialize in the ability to get to market quickly and operate efficiently. We have carved out a unique position where we are a very attractive service provider to the many independent casino operations that exist today.”
MGM and GVC eye up the Golden State
Native American reservations have tribal sovereignty and states have always had limited ability to forbid gaming within their borders, as codified by that Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, so casinos have thrived on these lands. Over in California, the MGM-GVC joint venture firm has struck a deal with the United Auburn Indian Community for a future sports betting venture. Sports betting currently remains outlawed in California, but it has by far and away the biggest economy in the US, with the biggest population, and it would surely become the market leader if it legalized sports wagering.
MGM and GVC, the owner of British bookmaking giant Ladbrokes Coral, have moved to ensure they have the infrastructure in place should the Golden State given sports betting the green light. “It is not yet clear if California will authorize sports betting or interactive games generally, but with the overturn of PASPA possibly opening the door for sports betting, our tribe wants to be well-situated, and this agreement with the national leader in the field does just that,” said Gene Whitehouse, Chairman of UAIC.
MGM-GVC did not offer a great deal of information about the deal, but said that it would provide its iconic brands and proprietary technology, enabling UAIC to offer both retail and mobile sports betting at its Thunder Valley Casino Resort “if and when state law permits sports wagering”. MGM is certainly an iconic brand in the US, and GVC has a wealth of experience in running sports wagering platforms thanks to the fine heritage of Ladbrokes and Coral in the well-established UK market. They have teamed up as equal partners in a joint venture that seeks to establish itself as the market leader in the burgeoning US sports betting industry. California would be the jewel in the US crown if it were to regulate sports wagering, and MGM-GVC wants to be ready to pull the trigger on day one.
“We greatly admire the success the UAIC has had with its Thunder Valley Casino Resort, and look forward to adding to that success,” said Adam Greenblatt, GVC director of corporate development and strategy. “The potential of this partnership is significant for MGM-GVC.”
Offshore operators hiding in plain sight
UAIC opened Thunder Valley Casino Resort in June 2003. It is just 30 miles east of Sacramento, and just a couple of hours away from Silicon Valley, an area teeming with tech billionaires and high net worth individuals. It is also close to Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe, so it is a popular area among tourists. The 270,000 sq ft casino on the reservation boasts 3,400 slots, 103 table games and 14 restaurants and bars, so it represents a strong base from which MGM-GVC can base its Californian operations.
There is a great deal of excitement among the huge operators that are bidding for glory Stateside, but they still face a considerable challenge in usurping the illegal, offshore sportsbooks that have thrived for decades while PASPA was in force. There was a furore this week as Fox News, an investor in regulated operator DraftKings, promoted lines from offshore book BetOnline when delivering its popular Lock It In show. These operators are not subjected to the high taxes that legal operators must fork out, and they have also built up years of goodwill with bettors.
“The lack of understanding from the general public and the lack of alternatives to convert high-volume offshore bettors to the legal market pose a long-term threat to the new industry,” said commentator Eric Ramsey. “They publicly portray their products as viable alternatives, working hard to camouflage themselves among the regulated industry. They spend money to sponsor television programs and place their brands on Twitter accounts with a blue check mark and a big following.” He claims these offshore operators are hiding in plain sight, and it is difficult for anyone on a state-by-state basis to go after them. It could require the federal government to launch an offensive against the books camped out in places like Antigua and Costa Rica, but for now regulated operators will simply have to hope bettors will be tempted to switch over to a regulated market and all the security benefits that brings.
Kristian heads up the content and SEO team at Digital Fuel having worked in digital marketing for ten years. He’s as passionate about creative content as he is about Brighton & Hove Albion FC and when he’s not following football he’s writing about Brighton’s bustling pub scene