Goin’ mobile

With all of the sound and fury stirred up by the recent “Black Friday” indictments of three online poker operators, some major news that’s bringing Nevada a bit further into the future and a bit closer to the mainstream of sports betting in the rest of the world has gone largely unheralded.

Last month, William Hill, a London-based bookmaking giant that claims 25 percent of the competitive market in the British Isles announced plans to acquire both American Wagering—the owner of Leroy’s, a chain of 53 sports books, 19 betting kiosks, and a Lovelock casino—and Club Cal Neva, a betting chain with more than two dozen outlets, primarily in Northern Nevada. This week, William Hill also bought Brandywine Bookmaking, parent of Lucky’s race and sports books.

The acquisitions highlight the vast differences in scale between American and European betting: While the Nevada companies William Hill acquiring are local power players with dozens of locations, the British bet-taker has 2,350 offices and 16,000 employees.

Also, Nevada’s sports betting, perhaps because it’s confined (legally, at least), to the state and because it’s almost more of a loss-leader than an income generator for the big casinos, hasn’t evolved as quickly here as it has overseas, where betting over the Internet and via mobile devices is long-established.

William Hill’s entry into the U.S. market might shake things up. Interestingly, Cantor Gaming, the other big innovator in mobile and in-running betting, has a U.K. connection as well—Cantor CEO Lee Amaitis spent several years in London with Cantor Fitzgerald, where he became familiar enough with Britain’s robust sports betting market to realize the potential for expanding it in Nevada, a potential he’s begun to capitalize on with Cantor Gaming.

It’s going to take a year, give or take, for Nevada regulators to decide to sign off on the acquisition. That’s when we’ll start seeing the real game-changers, says John English, American Wagering’s senior vice president of business development and public affairs. “We’re going to have much wider menus of betting opportunities, including a nice version of in-game betting, and many other elements that will be an asset to us.”

In-game betting is a shot across the bow of Cantor Gaming, which has been offering the ability to bet on games as they unfold on its eDeck devices, which bettors sign out from a kiosk, and which must remain in the casino-resort to work. American Wagering has put its own spin on mobile sports betting: Its application for Blackberry devices has been available for a few months now and has just been approved to begin taking bets via an Android app that works on both smartphones and tablets.

These apps, which run on users’ own devices and are accessible anywhere in the state of Nevada, may be the future of sports betting: They are more convenient than betting windows or kiosks, and if their usability improves, they may become easier than telephone betting. That’s why American Wagering has set out to conquer the mobile market; its Blackberry app was the first approved in Nevada for use on a nonproprietary device.

Mac devotees need not worry: English says that iPhone and iPad apps are going to be submitted to the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s laboratory for testing in four to six weeks; simultaneously, it’ll be vetted by Apple’s reviewers. Notably, William Hill already has sports betting apps approved by Apple.English also says the acquisition gives American Wagering the financial resources to expand its land-based operations (kiosks and casinos). By allying with Club Cal Neva, the company will be a statewide juggernaut with deeper pockets.

That’s important, since the sports wagering market is getting more competitive. The Riviera recently announced that Lucky’s would open a renovated sports book at the casino—a sports book Leroy’s used to run. Cantor has picked up several locations too, including high-profile Strip properties such as the Tropicana and Cosmopolitan. Leroy’s—which now shares a parent company with Lucky’s—has also been expanding, adding Reno’s Siena casino to its holdings.

But the most fundamental change might concern the betting itself. “Expect to see a lot of variety for new things like soccer, motorcycle racing, snooker, and maybe even darts,” English says.

That might not seem like such a big deal—after all, the average Las Vegas casino patron doesn’t know Raymond van Barneveld from Phil Taylor—but it has profound implications nonetheless. Great Britain is the second biggest international feeder market for Las Vegas. Giving the million or so Brits something to familiar to bet on while they’re here won’t just raise revenues a bit; it’ll make some of our best guests feel a little more welcome. And in today’s Las Vegas, that’s welcome news indeed.