Mississippi Becomes 4th State to Offer Legalized Sports Betting, William Hill Partners with 11 MS Casinos

Seal of Mississippi

Mississippi became the 4th state (NV, NJ, DE) to offer legalized sports betting on Wednesday August 1st, with the opening of sportsbooks at the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi and Gold Strike Casino in Tunica; properties owned by MGM Resorts International. The newly passed legislation allows for sports fans in the state to place bets on individual sporting events at land or water-based “legal gambling establishments” (i.e. casinos). MS sports bettors who wish to place in-game bets will be forced to visit their local casino as mobile betting will be restricted to those on the casino’s physical premises.

Howie Long-Short: Mississippi Rep. Richard Bennett believes legalized gambling will be a boon to the state’s tourism business declaring, “Mississippi welcomes you. We hope you’ll come, wager on sports betting and see what we have to offer in the Hospitality State”; and he just might be on to something. No other state in the deep South offers legalized sports betting and neighboring Alabama is responsible for more illegal college football bets per capita than any state. Wondering how long will this advantage last? According to Dustin Gouker of LegalSportsReport.com, Mississippi’s advantage (see: no competition) is likely to last “at least a year and feasibly longer”; with Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky the states most likely to join the party first.

In addition to MGM, Boyd Gaming (BYD) and Caesars Entertainment (CZR) both own gaming properties in MS. Speaking of BYD, just 2 days after the company announced a market access agreement with MGM Resorts International (MGM), BYD revealed it had aligned with FanDuel Group (PDYPY) to run online and mobile sportsbook operations in the U.S. FanDuel technology will power Boyd Gaming branded online and mobile sportsbook operations, while FanDuel Group will leverage BYD’s 15 state licenses (36% of population) to operate FanDuel branded online and mobile sports betting services in those states; the deal extends to MGM properties in states where mobile sports betting is authorized.

Fan MarinoMGM got out of the gate first in MS, but William Hill has made the greatest inroads, announcing partnership agreements with 11 MS casinos (and another West Virginia). WIMHY, which now operates in all 4 states that offer legalized sports betting, has no intentions of slowing down either; in fact, they recently stated their intentions to add gaming partners in 14 more states, Rhode Island being one of them. The company will offer “operational expertise, risk management and trading data” to support IGT, should their bid be selected in the Ocean State; IGT was the only company to submit a bid to provide sports betting within RI.

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NBA Becomes First U.S. League to Sign Official Sports Betting Partnership

nbadigital_200x200

The National Basketball Association became the first U.S. pro sports league to sign an official sports betting partnership, announcing a deal with MGM Resorts Intl. (MGM) on Tuesday. The agreement gives the resort and gaming operator authorization to use “league highlights, names, logos and its direct data feed” and enables the company to market itself as the “official gaming partner of the NBA & WNBA.” MGM will pay the NBA at least $25 million over 3 years, but the league will not receive an “integrity fee” or percentage of all bets placed on league games. MGM is not permitted to offer odds on screen during NBA games under the terms of this deal.

Howie Long-Short: Tuesday’s announcement comes just 24 hours after MGM announced a $200 million joint venture with GVC Holdings (to create an online gaming experience) and a market access agreement with Boyd Gaming (giving MGM ability to operate in 15 states, evening the playing field with CZR and PENN). While sports betting is currently limited to just 4 states, MGM is gearing up to cash in in 2023 when upwards of 32 states are expected to offer single game sports wagering.

The key to this deal on the MGM side is the direct data feed, which enables the company to provide an advanced in-game betting product. While live-betting currently represents just a small fraction of all bets placed on league action, it’s suspected that delays in 3rd party feeds have hampered its potential. It must be noted though, MGM’s pact with the league does not give it exclusivity over the data; only their title as the “official gaming partner of the NBA and WNBA” is protected. I expect mobile sports betting to gain momentum, inevitably forcing others gaming companies to purchase the same “official data.”

The NBA is finally going to receive compensation for its intellectual property, though not the 1% “integrity fee” it originally sought. While it’s far too early to project how much will be bet on league games (and ultimately the percentage $25 million equates to), the league must be ecstatic that they were able to get a deal done without any federal statutes in place; there really was no reason for a gaming company to cave to their demands.

Fan Marino: Sure, no gaming company had to cave, but MGM made for an easy target (i.e. there will be many more) for the NBA in its quest to profit off legalized sports betting. Why? It owns the WNBA’s Aces (they play at the MGM owned Mandalay Bay Events Center), it’s sponsored the NBA’s summer league the last 2 years and its believed the company wants to place an NBA team in the T-Mobile Arena; in other words, they’re motivated to work with the league. That’s certainly not the case for the remainder of the players in the sports betting space though, who vehemently oppose fees of any sort and are now placed in a tough spot with the precedent set – gaming companies will pay for access to official data.

FYI for NJ Residents: MGM will be taking mobile sports bets, within the state, by the end of the week.

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MGM Resorts, Boyd Gaming Form “Unprecedented” Online Gaming/Sports Betting Partnership

MGM

It was a busy Monday for MGM Resorts International (MGM) as the company confirmed reports of a joint venture with GVC Holdings (as discussed in yesterday’s newsletter) and announced an “unprecedented” online gaming/sports betting partnership with Boyd Gaming (BYD). Combined the two companies will maintain brick and mortar casinos in 15 states, with both being able to offer online and mobile gaming in jurisdictions where either is licensed to operate; GVC technology will power their platforms. The market access agreement with BYD gives MGM the ability to “expand our entertainment options for guests (30 million life Rewards members) beyond their visits to our land-based resorts” (think: sports betting, iGaming, poker); Boyd picks up the “opportunity to potentially an add an online presence in 5 additional states.”

Howie Long-Short: This deal puts MGM and BYD on an even playing field with Penn National Gaming (PENN) and Caesars Entertainment Corp. (CZR), which operate in 15 and 13 states, respectively. Speaking of Caesars, the company announced it would introduce land-based sports betting in both NJ (begins Tues at The Bally’s, Wednesday and Harrah’s) and Mississippi (first to offer in MS) prior to the start of the football season. CZR sportsbooks are powered by Scientific Games (SGMS) technology.

As for BYD, the company reported Q2 earnings on July 26th. Revenues (+2% to $616.8 million) and EBITDA (+8% YoY to $163.4 million) grew across every sector of the business and “companywide operating margins reached record levels.” Shares rose +1.5% on Monday’s news, closing at $35.92

Fan Marino: Everything is turning up Aces for MGM (pun intended), as the Las Vegas WNBA team owned by MGM Resorts International has been awarded the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game.

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MGM Resorts Expected to Announced Joint Venture with Sports Betting Operator GVC Holdings

MGM

U.S. hotel and casino operator MGM Resorts (largest casino company in the world) and the international sports betting operator GVC Holdings are expected to announce a $200 million sports betting joint venture this week; perhaps as early as today. Reports indicate that each group will post $100 million towards the new venture and each would own 50%. Designed to span 25 years, the deal allows for either side to buy the other out after 10 years; paving the way for a potential merger. MGM will bring their significant portfolio of U.S. casinos to the table, while GVC Holdings technology will serve as the backbone for the JV’s mobile and brick and mortar gaming operations.

Howie Long-ShortMGM’s domestic portfolio includes 13 properties in Las Vegas (includes: MGM Grand, Bellagio), 1 in Michigan (MGM Detroit), 1 in Maryland (MGM National Harbor), 2 in Mississippi (Beau Rivage and Gold Strike) and 1 New Jersey (Borgata); the company also just acquired Empire City Casino in New York and will be opening its doors at the new MGM Springfield (Massachusetts) in August.

On the balance sheet, MGM has transformed itself over the last several years to transition from a “debt burdened enterprise to cash rich one”, returning over $1 billion to shareholders since early ‘17. That appears to be just the start of the payouts, though. The company is first now approaching “the end of our current investment cycle (invested $8 billion since mid ’14), which puts us into the exciting period of generating significant free cash flow.” It’s “our desire to continue to return this accelerating free cash flow to our shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchase.” MGM will report Q2 ’18 earnings on Thursday.

GVC Holdings (OTC: GMVHF) has grown rapidly through a series of acquisitions, now controlling several well-known sports betting/gaming brands including Bwin, Ladbrokes, partypoker and Sportingbet. The company reported “acceleration in year-on-year growth in Q2 2018 over Q1 2018 driven by good underlying momentum and the World Cup”; a tournament that drove both “volumes and value of new customer deposits.” Company shares are currently trading at $14.32, 3.5% off their 52-week high.

Fan Marino: While MGM and GMVHF are clearly bullish on the future of sports betting in the U.S., that’s oddly not the case with every gaming company. Penn National Gaming told investors on their July 26th earnings call that “sports betting would likely prove more beneficial in terms of increased hotel room bookings and table drop than from the actual betting revenue.”

We’re nearly certain that won’t be the case and we’re not the only ones. Gambling industry expert Chris Grove (OnlinePokerReport.com) recently wrote, “sports betting is top-tier product by revenue in almost every international market, and there’s clear demand in US for sports. If done right, no reason it can’t be a double-digit direct contributor.”

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MGM Not Concerned with Core Economics of WNBA, Using Aces to Drive Visitation

Aces

MGM Resorts International (MGM) is reportedly “all-in” on their WNBA franchise, the Las Vegas Aces. The company spent $10 million to make the Mandalay Bay Arena “WNBA-ready”, has rolled out an expansive marketing campaign across the city (includes giant Aces jersey on the Statue of Liberty at the New York, New York casino) and is affording players “top-of-the-line accommodations”; they also hired a high-priced head coach in Bill Laimbeer. While MGM is committed to “doing it right” in terms of their on-court product and in-stadium experience, generating a profit remains far down their list of priorities; MGM Resorts Int’l President Bill Hornbuckle recently said, “with a WNBA team, it’s not about core economics for us. It’s about visitation.” Rabid Aces fans haven’t shown up in numbers just yet; the team is averaging just 5,600 fans/game this season. For comparison purposes, the league averaged 7,700 fans/game in ’17.

Howie Long-Short: MGM’s enthusiasm for the Aces must be considered progress for women’s pro sports, but it’s probably not what shareholders had in mind; the WNBA isn’t historically considered a money maker.

MGM has transformed itself over the last several years to transition from a “debt burdened enterprise to cash rich one”, returning over $1 billion to shareholders since early ‘17. That appears to be just the start of the payouts, though. The company is first now approaching “the end of our current investment cycle (invested $8 billion since mid ’14), which puts us into the exciting period of generating significant free cash flow.” It’s “our desire to continue to return this accelerating free cash flow to our shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchase.” MGM shares rose 1.69% on Monday, closing at $29.46.

Fan Marino: There’s been a lot of discussion about WNBA players earning salaries comparable to NBA players. Blazers Star Damian Lillard went to bat for his female counterparts saying, “they (WNBA players) deserve to make a lot more money”. Sure, they do (they’re the best in the world at what they do); but, there’s no conspiracy against female basketball players. The pay disparity between NBA players and WNBA players stems from the revenue gap between the 2 leagues; in ’17, the NBA generated $7.4 billion in revenue, the WNBA generated $25 million. For WNBA players to make more money, they need to grow the pie.

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MGM Enters New York Market, Acquires Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway

MGM

MGM Resorts International agreed to purchase Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway for $850 million, including roughly $245 million in debt that it intends to refinance. Should the state award Empire City a license for live table games by 2023, MGM will pay an additional $50 million for the racino and racetrack. Located just 15 miles from Times Square, Empire City controls roughly 40% of gross gaming revenue in the NYC market and is considered one of just two profitable casinos in the area (Resorts World being the other). The transaction is expected to close in Q1 2019 pending regulatory approval.

Howie Long-Short: CEO Jim Murran can talk all he wants about how this deal enhances the company’s “free cash flow profile”, but MGM did this deal as a means of entering the New York market; they were shut out when the state issued four new gaming licenses about five years ago. MGM will want to cash in on the legalized sports betting craze set to occur, but they’ll need the state legislature to draft new legislation before they can take a sports bet; state law currently authorizes just four upstate casinos to take bets on sporting events. It’s reasonable to suspect that will occur – perhaps as early as this fall.

Adding a sports betting license would be a boon to Empire City Casino, but Alan Woinski (President of Gaming USA Corp.) was more concerned about the amount MGM paid for the property than the status of its sports betting license. Woinski believes it was “a very, very high multiple to pay for a casino that doesn’t have table games.” That’s important piece to consider if you realize that sports betting represents just +/- 2% of all gaming profits generated in Las Vegas. It should be noted that NY law would allow for full-scale casino licensing as early as ’21. MGM shares are up +2% (to $31.89) since the report broke.

Looking for a company that maintains a big presence in the state of New York, but lacks widespread name recognition within the U.S?  Check out Genting Group (OTC: GEBHY). The Malaysian company has been developing, marketing and operating casinos around the world for the last 50+ years. They own Resorts World New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the largest racino in the U.S. Unlike Empire City Casino, Resorts World currently offers table games.

Fun Fact: Yonkers Raceway will be the first horse racing track that MGM has ever owned.

Fan Marino: For the last 46 years, Yonkers Raceway has been owned by the Rooney family. If that last names sounds familiar, it’s because they also happen to own the Pittsburgh Steelers. Art Rooney founded the team in 1933 (as the Pittsburgh Pirates) and won four Super Bowls. His son Dan ran the team from 1988-2017 and won two more. Art Rooney II now maintains control of the franchise.

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SCOTUS Strikes Down PASPA in Historic Ruling, Legalized Sports Betting to Spread Nationwide

Scotus

In a historic announcement, the SCOTUS ruled (6-3) to strike down PASPA; the national law preventing individual states (save Nevada) from offering betting on the outcome of a single sporting event. Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Congress can regulate sports directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.” The ruling effectively places the decision to authorize sports betting in the hands of the individual states. Several have already passed legislation (NJ + PA, CT, WV & MS), with upwards of 27 others expected to offer wagering on sporting events within 5 years. It’s important to note that federal law prohibits wagering across state lines, so gamblers will have to be physically located in a state that has passed sports betting regulation to legally place a bet on a game; even with online and mobile betting available elsewhere in the country.

Howie Long-Short: A fall ’17 study by Eilers & Krejcik estimated that if sports betting were to be legalized on a nationwide basis, it would generate $7.1 billion annually in new revenue at casinos & racetracks. That figure grows to $16 billion per year, when you count the revenue generated from gaming websites and mobile apps; so, it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm surrounding the announcement. Interestingly, English bookmakers William Hill (WIMHY, +14.39% to $17.73) and Paddy Power Betfair (PDYPY, +12.56% to $55.20) were Monday’s biggest winners; though, Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS, +11.15%), Stars Group, Inc. (TSG, +8.97%), Caesars Entertainment Corporation (CZR, +5.46%), Churchill Downs, Inc. (CHDN, +4.87%), Penn National Gaming (PENN, +4.68%), Boyd Gaming (BYD, +3.06%), Pinnacle Entertainment (PNK, +1.88%) and MGM Resorts International (MGM, +1.64%) all finished up on the day as well.

We’re not surprised that William Hill (WIMHY) had the biggest pop among the companies listed above, as we told you on April 24th that no European gaming company was better positioned to capitalize on legalized sports betting, in the United States, than they are. Back in ’13, the company bought the rights to run the sportsbook (and split profits 50/50) at Monmouth Park (NJ), if ever permitted by law, for $1 million; a remarkably shrewd investment considering the minimal capital investment required and the potential payoff they’ll now realize (+/-$750 million/year in sports betting revenue). The company has since announced plans to add a 2nd $5 million sportsbook on the premises. WIMHY will be the first sports book in NJ to accept bets, with Monmouth Park expecting to open its doors within 2 weeks; though residents in Mississippi, Delaware and West Virginia can all expect to be able to place bets at their local casinos by the first Sunday of the NFL season.

Fan Marino: MLB put out a statement saying the decision would have “profound effects” on the sport, but no one is more bullish on legalized sports betting than Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Cuban believes that “everybody who owns a top-four professional sports team just basically saw the value of their team double at least.”

I asked SportsHandle.com Editor-in-Chief Brett Smiley for his thoughts on Cuban’s remarks?

Brett: Cuban’s guesstimate strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s wide recognition amongst the leagues and owners that legal sports betting will increase ratings, increase revenue and create more opportunities. Sports bettors are more engaged and for longer periods of time. There will be other opportunities to sell data, partnerships, sponsorships and so forth.

It sounds like an exaggeration to me too, but if $300 billion were to be wagered annually and the leagues got their 1% “integrity fee” on a nationwide level (highly unlikely); they would be splitting $3 billion annually. Divvy up that newfound revenue between +/- 120 pro sports franchises and you’re adding $25 million in profit to each team’s bottom line. The Mavericks only generated $21 million in operating income last season. Sure, that’s a bunch of “ifs”, but once you add in all the other revenue streams that Brett referenced, Cuban may not end up being too far off.

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FanDuel Confirms Plans to “Get into Sports Betting”, Verizon Flying Under Radar

FanDuel

FanDuel CEO Matt King confirmed in an interview with Fortune that should SCOTUS strike down PAPSA, the company would “get into sports betting.” The announcement comes just two weeks after the NBA said it would look to divest equity interest in the DFS operator and 2 months after news broke that the company was in “advanced talks” to partake a reverse merger. It was suspected at the time, that the company would use a capital infusion to position itself to capitalize on legalized sports betting. No updates have been released as it relates to negotiations.

Howie Long-Short: We told you on April 23rd, that the NBA divesting its interest in FanDuel was the latest sign of the company’s intention to pursue legalized sports betting. The NBA has been outspoken about its desire for an “integrity fee”; they can’t sell an increased role in regulation and serve as the book, with an interest in winners/losers.

While not too late (a decision may not occur until the end of June), FanDuel has some catching up to do. As we’ve noted over the last several months, rival DraftKings has been aggressively positioning itself (increased staff by 75%, hired Head of Sportsbook, seeking casino partners) for a similar pivot; and DRAFT, owned by Paddy Power Betfair (PDYPY), is also expected to chase a share of the U.S. sports gambling market. Those 3 new entrants will face strong competition from established gaming operators like William Hill (WIMHY), Caesars Entertainment (CZR), MGM Resorts International (MGM), Penn National (PENN), Boyd Gaming (BYD), etc.

Fan Marino: There’s another potential new entrant to the sports betting space, well positioned and flying quietly below the radar; Verizon Communications (VZ). The company owns Yahoo! (AABA) and its popular season-long fantasy sports business (they also have DFS, though less users than DraftKings and FanDuel) and like those companies (and Draft), could convert tens of millions of players into gamblers. VZ also owns both NFL and NBA streaming rights, giving them the ability to broadcast games and offer in-game betting within the same application; a significant advantage over the competition.

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Reverse Merger Could Take FanDuel Public

FanDuel

FanDuel, Inc. may be going public, but it won’t be through an IPO. The DFS company is in “advanced talks” with Platinum Eagle Acquisition Corp. (EAGLU) to partake in a reverse merger; an expedient and cost effective way for a private company to trade on a public exchange. No details have been released relating to the equity percentage EAGLU would acquire or the valuation FanDuel holds; though, the company calculated its fully diluted value to be $1.2 billion in 2017. One can speculate FanFuel will use the capital infusion to position itself to capitalize on legalized sports betting; the company owns an extensive database of DFS players that it could convert into mainstream sports gamblers.

Howie Long-Short: EAGLU is a special purpose acquisition company, formed by well-respected media execs Jeff Sagansky (Sony, CBS, Scripps Networks Board Member) and Harry Sloan (MGM, SBS Broadcasting, Lionsgate Board Member). The publicly traded company launched in January, having raised $325 million to acquire another business (or businesses). As for FanDuel, they’ve raised +/-$435 million to date; but, none since April ’16. A reverse merger is another way for the company to raise the capital it needs.

Fan Marino: FanDuel won’t be the only DFS company to enter the sports betting space. DraftKings announced last week that it had hired a “Head of Sportsbook”, and DRAFT, owned by Paddy Power Betfair (PDYPY), is also expected to chase a share of the U.S. sports gambling market. Of course, all 3 will have strong competition from established gaming operators like of William Hill (WIMHY), Caesars Entertainment (CZR), MGM Resorts International (MGM), Penn National (PENN), Boyd Gaming (BYD) etc.

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