Operators strive for a sporting chance in new jurisdictions

Gaming companies have long recognised the lucrative potential of teaming up with sports, and as new jurisdictions open up to casinos, operators are seeking to leverage these ties to boost brand recognition, woo the public and dull the gambling edge.

Betting companies’ names occupy the front jerseys on 9 of the 20 English Premier League (EPL) football clubs. Others that don’t have their brand logos on training kits, team buses, websites or endorse them as official betting partners.

Leading British bookmaker, Bet365 has marketing deals with half of the teams in Spain’s Primera Liga, while three of the clubs display Betway’s logo on their kit top. EPL matches are beamed to over 600 million homes around the world granting the gambling companies almost five billion pairs of eyeballs on their brands.

Bricks-and-mortar casinos are also well aware of the power of sports when it comes to reeling in players.  

Almost every marquee boxing bout has been held in a Las Vegas casino venue and each time it hosts the fights, the casino’s hotels are instantly overbooked and in a rare reversal, it is the casino high-rollers that are cajoling the casino hosts for a room at the inn.

In 2011, Genting signed a two-year deal to be the shirt sponsor of then Premier League club, Aston Villa. It was the right league but the wrong team as the club languished in the nether reaches of the table during that period.

Golden Nugget Casinos owner, Tilman Fertitta, took home the Houston Rockets basketball team for $2.2 billion in 2017. Now, his casinos’ top customers have privileged access to the Golden Nugget Club box seats at the Toyota Center.

An audacious plan by the city of Las Vegas, in an initiative endorsed by Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, contemplated disgorging an NFL franchise from California to Nevada. The Oakland Raiders would become the Las Vegas Raiders by which Las Vegas Clark County hopes will bring droves of NFL football fans into the famed desert strip. While Adelson is no longer party to the deal, an NFL franchise in Las Vegas, specifically with a spanking new stadium on the Las Vegas Strip itself, is bound to bring a windfall of customers to the casinos littered along the four-mile stretch.

In the new frontiers of competition for greenfield gaming concessions for integrated resorts, there is a prerequisite for substantial non-gaming elements in order to be successfully selected. As a result, casino companies are again turning to sports to spice up their offerings. The biggest prize in the near horizon are three casino licenses up for grabs in Japan.

Las Vegas Sands literally started the ball rolling by bringing their global ambassador, former England football star, David Beckham, to Tokyo for an extravaganza event in 2017 to woo the Japanese people.

MGM Resorts lost no time to capitalize on the MLB’s scheduled season opening series in Tokyo this year to tap on its relationship with the professional baseball league to be the title sponsor of the opener in Tokyo Dome. It stamped its concession ambitions further by pledging to deliver the league’s grassroot event, the MLB Road Show, all across Japan.

On the sidelines of the MLB series opener in Tokyo, Joe Torre, the chief baseball officer of the MLB responded pensively in a media interview of his concern over the rapidly expanding relationship between sports and gambling. He acknowledges its delicacy and something he personally has to watch closely in his fiduciary capacity, even as he insisted he treats the game opener sponsor, MGM Resorts, no differently than he would other sponsors like Coca Cola.

Hard Rock International promised a New York Yankees ‘experience’ as part of the attractions in their resort plans. Galaxy Entertainment joined the fray in announcing the EuroJapan Cup, an off-season exhibition match between top European football teams and J-League teams, the first of which will be held this July in Yokohama between the port city’s home team and English football giant, Manchester City FC.

Taking a more virtual tact, Melco Entertainment, which operates a 274-seat e-sports arena in its Macau property, gushes on building an e-sports stadium in Japan. According to Fortune magazine, the burgeoning e-sports market is primed to exceed the billion dollar mark this year.

Marina Bay Sands forked out millions of dollars to bring Tiger Woods, not once, not twice, but three times to Singapore where he conducted clinics, and played a hole each with a few fortunate premium casino customers.

The internet domain for sports betting and gambling remains legally shut outside of Europe. Sports books are limited solely within the confines of the physical casino floor in the United States, and how long online fantasy sports can continue to fly remains to be seen.

Paradoxically, Asia is the biggest online sports betting market by a mile but shrouded in charcoal grey. Operators barricade themselves in far-flung bases from Malta, to Guernsey and the Isle of Man, Gibraltar offering attractive betting odds to millions of customers in Asia, emboldened by the fact there is no real recourse for the countries to take action against them.

Off-limits only applies to their own citizens in the eyes of the Philippines authorities. A world leader in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, the sector has evolved from its core call center business to also become a data center and operations hub for online gambling. Now amalgamated as Philippines Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) within the casino gaming authority, PAGCOR, it is earmarked to reap the government close to or over $100 million in fees and taxes this year. The target customers of POGO operators, whose main products are football betting and live dealer baccarat and roulette, are the Asian gamblers. Manila is ground zero to the three biggest sports betting organizations in the world, IBCBet, SBOBet and 188Bet, said to turn over $2 billion of wagers weekly between them. PAGCOR would plead that its not within their control notwithstanding the awareness of the fact that all Asian countries deem it an illegal act for their citizens to make a gambling wager over the Internet.

Just like in physical casinos, the biggest market are the Chinese. But flying too close might risk the ire of the long arm of Beijing.