What would a nation of sports players look like?

The Circa Casino in downtown Las Vegas, home of the largest sportsbook in the world, has a 400-by-40-foot television screen, three floors of stadium-style seating, and an even larger pool area screen, where you can rent a cabana for five hundred dollars a day be able. High-priced Las Vegas venues are usually the origin of sweaty men in designer shirts looking to lure women into the VIP areas of clubs, but when I visited the Circa last Sunday for eight hours of manic soccer betting, the clientele was mostly young, equally sweaty men in ill-fitting football shirts, fluffy shorts they could have bought on Instagram, and baseball caps worn inside out.

Circa opened two years ago and was, according to the Nevada Independent, “the first downtown hotel-casino built from the ground up in nearly four decades.” (Downtown is home to some of the older casinos, like the Golden Nugget and Binion’s; the Strip has luxurious mega-resorts like the Bellagio and the Venetian.) The idea of ​​a casino built around a sportsbook was may seem like a terrible one for many reasons: In 2021, sports betting accounted for less than 1.5 percent of total gaming revenue at a typical Las Vegas Strip casino, while slots accounted for almost sixty percent. When you consider that every square foot of a casino floor is designed to make money, building huge rooms for guys to watch the NFL for hours just to sweat maybe a single twenty-dollar bet seems far less pragmatic, than sticking to slot machines. leading to bettors pumping in money much faster and usually at much worse odds.

The Circa opened at a time when online sports betting, now legal in more than twenty states and the District of Columbia, was booming in the United States. That meant the Circa not only faced stiff competition from well-funded rivals like DraftKings, FanDuel, and Caesars, but was also attempting to sell a personal experience that could very well be dated. Four of my friends and I had to rent one of Circa’s “Millionaire’s Row” football booths on an NFL Sunday, which required a minimum of twenty-five hundred dollars for drinks and food, with a mandatory five-hundred dollar tip. Instead of just firing bets on our phones in front of our own televisions, on our own sofas, we had to queue to place bets by a window. Some of the modern innovations in sports betting, including live betting that lets you bet mid-game and sophisticated parlays that let you string together multiple exotic bets for a huge payday, are harder to find in a brick-and-mortar market. and mortar casino like the Circa. In one app you can also bet on everything from South American soccer leagues and global cricket matches to political races, most of which weren’t offered at the brick-and-mortar Circa sportsbook and probably not at the smaller Las Vegas sportsbooks.

In interviews and in the press, Derek Stevens, the owner of Circa, has seemed a little coy about why he built this place. But here’s my theory: Stevens suspects, perhaps correctly, that the widespread legalization of sports betting will bring what was once a barely-secret culture fully into the open. So betting apps aren’t really its competition, but more of a targeting tool that could help attract people to its casinos, especially for big events like March Madness and the Super Bowl. He essentially created the Disney World of sports betting — a place where large groups of people go a few times in their lives and splurge on everything from wagers to cabanas and spa packages. All he needs for the vision to work is a nation of sports bettors willing to open their wallets.

Creating a nation of sports betting would presumably require the involvement of the nation’s most populous state. (Thirty percent of Las Vegas’ visitors last year came from California.) The state has two sports betting legalization measures on the vote in November of this year. Proposition 26 would allow sports betting, but only in tribal casinos and brick-and-mortar racetracks. Proposal 27 would legalize online sports betting, and its passage could lead to something like the app-based, heavily marketed gambling blitzes we’ve seen in New York and New Jersey.

Proponents and opponents of both proposals have spent hundreds of millions of dollars flooding Californians with advertising; This has caused great confusion among voters. No one seems to know which proposal will do what, which will have tribal support – a major political concern, particularly in the progressive nonprofit space – or even what the bills will actually do. The website for YESon27, for example, mentions very little about sports betting. Instead, it focuses almost entirely on the money the bill would raise to alleviate homelessness through a ten percent monthly state tax on sports betting: the funds would first be used to cover regulatory costs, but thereafter eighty-five per one percent of that money would used to fight homelessness, and the remaining fifteen percent would be distributed to Native American tribes not involved in sports betting.

Most of the money to stop Prop 27 has been raised by gaming tribes that run casinos that, along with a broad coalition that includes the California Democratic and Republican parties, are driving everything from the addictive properties of gambling on your phone to the Issues have raised tribal sovereignty. Their argument rests on the premise that online gambling is a lot worse than going to a casino in person, which of course is perfectly fine. In fact, the big gaming tribes seem to be saying that in-person betting is so good that everyone should support Prop 26 and allow sports betting instead – but only on racetracks and in their casinos, of course.

It’s all a bit silly and disingenuous. One side is using the homelessness crisis as a cover for legalizing sports betting apps; the other pretends that it alone can provide a safe gaming experience. Neither proposal goes down well — a recent UC Berkeley poll showed that just twenty-seven percent of voters support Prop 27, an answer that scores only slightly worse than that for Prop 26, which garnered support just thirty-one percent more likely voters. The apparent lack of support has caused Prop 27’s proponents, which include the big app companies like FanDuel and DraftKings, to mostly give up and wait until 2024 to try again.

None of this means online sports betting is dead in California; In fact, it only highlights the fact that many powerful interests are cornering what they see as a lucrative market. The amount of money at stake and the other states that have already bought in might actually broker some sort of compromise between the tribes and the app-based gambling companies. The tribes could also spend the next few years developing their own apps and controlling the market themselves.

Online sports betting, as I wrote last year, seems to align with Robinhood, stock trading apps, and cryptocurrency trading to lure users — usually young, impressive men — into losing their money. It took New York state about a month after legalization to become the largest sports betting market in the country for a while; Thanks to aggressive customer acquisition campaigns that included incessant advertising and free bonuses and wagers, players in the state wagered $2.8 billion in the first seven weeks. Some studies have shown that sports betting is five times more likely to lead to problem gambling than other forms of gambling. Other studies state that online gambling is more addictive than analog casino betting. (Though it should be noted that casinos, at least in California, are helping drive this narrative.) Because the big online gambling companies can launch their services almost immediately after legalization, and have a seemingly unlimited amount of money to spend on promotions, they’re likely to outperform any support infrastructure , which can be set up to help addicted bettors.

I’ve spent far too much of my adult life in casinos and cardrooms and sportsbooks, where I’ve met more than my fair share of problem gamblers. I’m still not sure if app-based sports betting is much worse than betting on the Circa sportsbook, where a few steps in any direction will have you walking straight into a slot machine. The notion that it’s somehow healthier to place your bets on a racetrack than on your mobile phone doesn’t really fit. Gambling addiction is based in many ways on sensory compulsions: the smell of the grass on the lane, the sound of a roulette ball bouncing across the wheel, the sharp edges of the dice digging into your fingers. It’s still an open question as to whether the apps can match the sensations of physical spaces designed to suck your bucks.

There’s a well-known gambling maxim that says you should assume you’re lying to everyone at all times. This rule seems to have carried over into the debates surrounding online sports betting, where the only thing you can really rely on is that every press release and commercial is purposefully designed to draw someone in or knock someone out. Rather than trying to wrap the issue around more palatable talking points like tax revenue and homeless funding, perhaps politicians, lobbyists, and the corporations that want FanDuel and DraftKings in their state should be asking the question head-on. Because Americans at large want to become a nation of sports bettors – this year Maine, Kansas, Minnesota and Massachusetts passed sports betting laws. The will of the guys in Instagram shorts with a few expendable bucks for a game is served. ♦

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