Tuesday, April 19, 2011

William Hill Hopping The Pond, Jumps Into Las Vegas Sports Book Market

By Micah Roberts

Welcome to America, William Hill.
Shockwaves were sent through the Las Vegas valley last week when it was announced that England sports book king William Hill had agreed to buy out the Leroy’s and Cal-Neva chain of sports books for $39 million. Because of their reputation and stature within the gaming world, this may be the most anticipated English group coming to Vegas since the Beatles played at the convention center in 1964.

There’s a wide array of opinions and thoughts from people throughout the business as for what it means for existing sports books and the actual impact they’ll make in Las Vegas, but there’s no denying from anyone that when the deal eventually becomes final, there will be an impact.

Rather than get some of the sports book directors to go on record with comments -- regardless of what they say -- that can be misconstrued by several sides on the subject, I thought I’d use my own opinions and thoughts from my years behind the counter. I also found an appropriate expert on the matter, one of my favorite characters I worked with in the industry who has a lot of knowledge of how both Las Vegas books and William Hill operate.

Billy O’Gorman was everyone’s favorite Irish lad while running Las Vegas race books for the last 25 years, but before he hopped the pond, he also ran a William Hill booking operation in Coventry, England from 1974 to 1975. O’Gorman see’s this as being big news, but is a bit reserved on what advances they’ll be able to make.

“It all depends on what Nevada’s gaming board allows them to do. They are famous in England beyond race and sports for their variety of propositions like ‘who will win Miss World,’ or ‘will it snow on Christmas day’ to even ‘what color dress the Queen will wear at the Royal wedding.’ Those type of wagers would seem to have some difficulty passing board approval here.”

William Hill is a giant in England
But maybe not. Just a few months ago the GCB announced that they would be more willing to listen to unique proposition ideas offered by Nevada sports books if they could prove the outcome not to be predetermined and provide satisfactory methods used to ensure that the integrity of Nevada wasn’t compromised. Things like the political elections, poker tournaments and the Academy Awards are just a few of the ideas that could be submitted if a sports book wanted to right now.

The technology of what William Hill brings to the Nevada table should be good for the state overall. We’ve seen Cantor Gaming roll into town and keep the GCB techies working day and night trying to keep up with all of their innovative submissions and William Hill figures to do more of the same.

Cantor, and now William Hill, are both companies in Nevada who run mostly race and sports betting as their core source of income. It is likely that William Hill will be very proactive, like Cantor, with all their lawyer’s and technology wizards looking to make things happen rapidly within the state. Most of the other sports books in casinos are going to have strike back with some kind of counter-offensive to keep up.

Over the last two decades Las Vegas sports books have been put on the back burner of most casino operations just because many account for only 2 to 8% of the overall casino win. Why spend all the time and effort of a company to spearhead an operation to new heights when they can make more money with those same efforts expanding upon proven methods, like increasing slot revenues which generate 40 to 60% of the casino win.

But now, push has come to shove. Even though race and sports betting is small piece of the overall pie, casino executives still like that slice and if they’re getting less than they’ve been accustomed to, they’re going to do something about it in a more aggressive fashion.

Cantor Gaming has some English influences. 
Cantor Gaming has already struck a nerve across the city and have the corporate bosses game planning for maintaining their slice of the pie. With the announcement of William Hill coming, Paul Revere has now been sent rushing full speed down the strip on horseback alerting Las Vegas executives that the time is now for implementing defense strategies to maintain their current grip.

For almost everyone involved, William Hill coming to America is a good thing. Without saying so themselves, the casinos may disagree somewhat because they’ll have to do some more spending on their operation to maintain their status. But now is as good as any to give the sports books some love. It’s the one area of casino operations over the last four years of a poor economic climate that has shown growth, or at least flat levels year-over-year.

For the players it becomes an all win-win situation. The ship loads of English pounds brought over convert nicely to dollars which should go into improving all the Leroy’s and Cal-Neva sports books across the state giving bettors new attractive options for spending their race and sports bankroll.

“Of all the books in England and Ireland, William Hill is the cleanliest and nicest of them all and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that continue over here,” O‘Gorman said as he chuckled about some of the other hole in the wall books scattered throughout England. “They just opened one in my home town of Tipperary, Ireland, and even though we have just a tiny little town, they went first class with everything. It’s absolutely beautiful.“

They’ll also have a competitive wagering menu and gadgets that make wagering easily from wherever like they currently do in England.

From that competitive standpoint, William Hill will have to immediately change their business model in the U.S. The theoretic hold they have in all their wagers offered in the U.K. would be a business killer for them in Vegas and they’ll have to adapt to their new market. The only reason they do it in England is because everyone else does the same thing.

Horse Racing could use a lift in the U.S.
The area where William Hill could really spice things up is in the race book. In England they have pool odds like we have in Nevada with the pari-mutual wagering that is linked to the track. But they also have fixed odds offered in the U.K.‘s books and on site at the track that allows bettors to shop for the best price.

If they wanted to entertain the idea of booking races in Nevada, they would have to do one or the other, either book it or offer pari-mutual wagers. The only stipulation by the GCB is that they would have to be licensed by an approved race dissemination company. If they were bold enough to do the move, they could really shake up the stagnant Las Vegas horse racing business by creating more action with several variations of hedging against the market price.

O’Gorman doesn’t know if they’ll go that far, but knows they’re capable of it.

“They have more intelligence than the CIA when it comes to horse racing, it’s second to none,” said O’Gorman. “They have paid scouts and information flowing from every stable at every track in England to be able to offer the best prices set at the most informed and educated rates. Sports betting made them millions, but horse racing with a competitive edge in information and odds is what allowed William Hill to be what they’ve become.”

O’Gorman said he initially heard about the possibility of William Hill coming to America about six months ago while William Hill executives were having lunch at the Queen Victoria pub inside the Riviera, site of where the featured Leroy’s sports book is, and a place O‘Gorman frequents for a proper pint of Guinness.

“My initial thought was ’no way, their not coming over here, why‘, and then just blew it off as bar talk. But they are coming and it will be very interesting to see what happens.”

U.S. on-line gaming market could be ready soon
O’Gorman poses a great initial question, why are they coming? My first guess is that they have seen what Cantor Gaming has done so fast in Las Vegas -- as well as with the GCB -- and feel they can do similar things, but to a much larger audience across the state with all the Leroy’s and Cal-Neva locations.

My second thought, and maybe it should be the first, is that perhaps the English giant is taking their first step into the U.S. with hopes that interstate wagers will someday be allowed and they want to be ready for it. This aspect wouldn’t be just race and sports, but would include any variation of on-line poker, slots and table games.

If they’re licensed and ready to go in Nevada with the technology they already have in existence in their much more tolerant and bet-friendly country, should the day ever come where the United States accepts the logic in taxing on-line gambling and make it legal, William Hill will be ready from the start just as Cantor Gaming, Caesar’s Entertainment, MGM Resorts and other Gaming Industry leaders will be.

It may take a year before we start to see some changes and the ripple affect it has throughout Las Vegas sports books, but keep a sharp eye at what is going on at your favorite race and sports book. It could be a subtle thing like offering more betting options or higher odds on the parlay chart to cosmetic changes like new paint, carpet or TV’s. Whatever changes are made, the bettor wins!


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