For the few hundred folks who showed up to learn about Maryland sports betting, the nearby Sports & Social area was the perfect lesson.
On Tuesday Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland played host to the “Maryland Educational Summit: Sports Betting 101” conference. The three-panel event gave entrepreneurs and other industry observers a crash course in the booming sports betting business.
Maryland voters, after all, cleared the way for legal sports wagering in November. Then, in April, lawmakers passed House Bill 940 to lay the foundation for what could be one of the country’s most competitive and robust sports betting markets.
The newly formed Sports Wagering Application Review Commission will ultimately decide which hopefuls get their shot at Maryland’s potential sports-betting riches.
Plenty of the summit attendees no doubt want a piece of the action. But as industry professionals cautioned them throughout the one-day event in Hanover: Have a game plan. Billions of dollars may be wagered, but winners aren’t guaranteed in an industry with such tight margins.
Sports & Social: A next-level sportsbook
Tuesday’s conference took place at The Hall At Live! Casino, the venue’s events space. Just a few hundred yards away, located in the center of the expansive resort, is one of the resort’s newest and most expensive attractions: Sports & Social Maryland.
The $15 million facility, which opened on April 29, is a 13,775-square-foot state-of-the-art entertainment center that rivals nearly any Las Vegas sportsbook.
There’s an immersive TV and sound system, with feeds of the top sports events from across the US and beyond. There’s 100 linear feet of LED screens, with a giant 47-foot-wide main screen for the day’s top games.
Seating capacity is 212, but there’s plenty of room to mingle about in and around Sports & Social. The tiered seating includes bar stools, traditional tables, comfy booths, plush recliners, and even VIP areas.
The restaurant serves up traditional American bar favorites (including a downright delicious burger-and-fries combo). And the drink menu? It’s wide-ranging. (I recommend the in-house Live! Lager.)
The staff is attentive, friendly and quick to offer suggestions, if needed.
There’s even skee-ball, foosball, mini bowling, and some electronic casino gaming devices to keep you entertained during lulls in the action up on the screens.
Really, if you’re a sports bettor, it’s hard to imagine a more alluring and welcoming venue.
There’s just one catch: There’s no actual sports betting at Sports & Social.
Getting ready for MD sports betting
Rob Norton is the president of Cordish Gaming Group. The division is part of The Cordish Cos., which has dining, entertainment, and hospitality ventures throughout the mid-Atlantic and beyond.
The gaming division includes casinos in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Officials have already deployed the Sports & Social concept at Live! Casino Pittsburgh and Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia. A second Maryland location is coming this fall to Bethesda’s Pike & Rose neighborhood.
According to Norton, Sports & Social is the special sauce the company is relying on for its sports betting plans. As he and other “Sports Betting 101” panelists cautioned attendees throughout the summit, billions of dollars might be wagered, but almost all of it goes back to players. Sportsbook operators are lucky to keep 5-8% of the handle. Then they pay taxes on it, which will be 15% for MD sportsbooks.
Add in licensing fees, staffing, software/technology, marketing, and other costs, and that potential profit margin shrinks still further.
Panelists: Sports betting isn’t a standalone act
“Having a license isn’t necessarily a ticket to riches,” moderator and Spectrum Gaming Group Managing Director Michael Pollock said during the “Status of Maryland Sports Betting Legislation” panel.
Even if you get through the expensive licensing process and launch a sportsbook, the industry can be cut-throat.
That’s why The Cordish Cos. views sports betting as a tool more than a standalone attraction. The bulk of the money, after all, will come from its casino, not the sportsbook. The sportsbook, though, can help create a one-stop-shop for entertainment.
And once Maryland sportsbook operators get a license and the green-light, Maryland Live! will be ready to go with Sports & Social as its anchor. After all, empty FanDuel betting windows currently sit adjacent to Sports & Social, ready to go live when the time comes.
As Norton said:
“We think sports betting is a major player in creating that entertainment experience. … We believe that if you can create an environment where people are cheering and hooting and betting on their favorite team, even though there’s not great margin in that, what we’re going to see is more business in the casino. … If we can get just a couple of those folks who are coming in for sports betting to play in the casino, we’re going to make a lot more money for the state and the operators.”
Is Sports & Social the future?
Maryland legislators created a market in which the state could issue up to 60 mobile betting licenses. Additionally, a wide variety of businesses could be eligible for retail sports betting licenses.
It’s going to be tough for any individual or group to build a full-fledged sportsbook operation from scratch, no matter how entrepreneurially minded they are. In fact, that was one of the key messages from Monday’s summit, which Spectrum Gaming Group, the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, and Cordish sponsored.
Even if they did, they’re going to need to seriously scale (no easy feat) to overcome the industry’s slim profit margins.
Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland is trying to address that problem with Sports & Social. Sure, it’ll undoubtedly be a popular hub for sports bettors who want the in-person experience. But even without sports betting, the food and drink and residual casino business should make it profitable.
It’s a model that could work for other business owners. Whether it’s a restaurant, sports bar, entertainment venue, or another facility prone to draw sports fans, sports betting could be a nice supplement.
Maybe retail isn’t the answer
The Cordish Companies teamed up with FanDuel in 2019. Maryland Live! was included as part of the deal.
Even for large companies such as Cordish, teaming with an experienced sportsbook operator makes financial sense. Once licensed, Cordish would essentially be turning would-be sports bettors into FanDuel customers.
As Norton mentioned, it’s a model that could work for other businesses – of all shapes and sizes. The likes of FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM are spending millions upon millions to sign up customers.
Got a knack for searching and acquiring new customers? Is marketing among your company’s specialties? Perhaps it’s time to partner with those proven brands rather than trying to compete with them.
“There’s a tremendous financial benefit with aligning with the marketing spends from those online companies,” Norton said. “If you’re a business out there that happens to be in the marketing world right now, there’s a huge opportunity about to present itself as we go forward.”