The Buzz About Sportsbooks

Nevada’s sportsbooks made national news late last month—not because of any bets they accepted, but because of a bill introduced by state Senator Tick Segerblom that would legalize betting on federal elections. It’s not likely to bring in much money, but it highlights the increasingly high profile of sportsbooks.

Overall, sports betting is a low-margin game for casinos. Since 1992, casinos’ annual average winning percentage has ranged from less than one percent to less than eight percent, averaging about a 4.5 percent hold for the house. Given the risk and cost of running a sporstbook, that’s a razor-thin margin with little room for profit and much for loss.

At the same time, sportsbooks are, for now, unique to Nevada. Many other states have slot machines, but this is the only state where bettors can lay odds on the outcome of individual games. So it’s interesting to note that, while the total amount won by sportsbooks in 2012 ($170.1 million) was well below the all-time high ($191.5 million in 2006), it was a record year, because in 2012 sports betting represented 1.6 percent of total gaming win, the highest proportion in history.

With our sports-betting win increasing at a faster pace than overall gaming win, it’s no surprise that beleaguered Atlantic City is suddenly itching to overturn the federal ban on new sports betting, and that casinos make such a big deal about the Super Bowl and March Madness. Because as gambling itself becomes more common—perhaps even commonplace—across the nation, legal sports (or election) betting gives visitors an excuse to fly to Las Vegas.

So don’t be surprised if sportsbooks continue to exert an influence far beyond their numbers—at least as long as they remain a Nevada novelty.

Where would your money have gone in the 2012 elections?

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