ANDERSON — Soon to own four of the state’s five largest casinos, Caesars Entertainment is perfectly poised to win big if Indiana legislators move to legalize sports betting.
A decision by the Supreme Court on Monday brought an end to policy that left Nevada as the lone state offering legal betting on football, basketball, baseball and other sports.
Though the decision is still up to state lawmakers on whether to legalize gambling on professional sports, an underground industry that the American Gaming Association values at $150 billion each year, Caesars Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Frissora said he’s ready to offer the rest of the country what’s already available at their keystone location in Las Vegas.
“Caesars is a leader in legalized gaming in the U.S.,” Frissora said according to a press release. “As a result, we expect to be able to provide safe, exciting sports wagering experiences to consumers across the country, as we do today in Nevada.”
Hoosier Park representative Kierstin Flint said she couldn’t comment on any specific changes the casino planned to make in light of the court’s decision.
Caesars, which already owns Horseshoe Hammond and Horseshoe Southern Indiana and is in the process of acquiring the state’s two racinos from Indiana-based Centaur Gaming, is likely to be a model for what would come to Indiana if sports gambling is legalized, said Ed Feigenbaum, who writes about the state’s gaming industry for his publication Indiana Gaming Insight.
“Caesars has made it clear they want to do what they do in Nevada and internationally … and bring that national,” Feigenbaum said. “Obviously that would have some kind of effect on Indiana.”
In Nevada, sports gamblers can bet on nearly any sporting event within one of the company’s casinos, as well as online through its Caesar Sports app.
But what the gambling juggernaut is likely to offer is contingent on what, if anything, state lawmakers decide to allow.
The Indiana Legislature already voted down bills in January, one in the House and one in the Senate, which would have authorized sports betting at the state’s 11 riverboat casinos, two racetrack-based casinos and four off-track wagering facilities in Indiana.
“Sports wagering is happening already,” said Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, who co-authored one of the bills. “It’s underground. It’s done by criminals at this point, let’s be real. I want to legitimize it, tax it and make sure the state can regulate it in such a way that it becomes a legitimate business.”
Both bills died after failing to receive a vote in a committee.
The matter is set to be studied this summer by the Interim Study Committee on Public Policy. Some lawmakers are already voicing their concern about the measure.
House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) has said he is against expanding gambling in Indiana.
“We know that, given the Supreme Court ruling yesterday, we need to understand the impacts on our state, including the existing gaming industry, and be prepared for discussions next session, pro or con,” he said.
State Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, talked on Wednesday about the Supreme Court ruling.
“That’s one of the things that we’ll be talking about in Indiana going forward, is how do we do that in a way that’s fair to all sides,” Long said. “Also, (we need to) make sure we’re protecting the NCAA as well. That’s first and foremost on our minds — to make sure that college sports is as clean as we can possibly make it and that our laws reflect that regardless of sports betting.”
All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the Indianapolis-based NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law, and were against expanding sports betting.
In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball argued that a New Jersey gambling expansion at the heart of the case would hurt the integrity of their games. Outside court, however, leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling.
Matt Bell, a former state legislator and executive director of the Casino Association of Indiana, argued adding oversight to the already growing illicit gambling enterprise would only enhance the sports’ legitimacy.
“Today there is really one way to track where money goes,” when someone places an illegal bet, he said. “If it’s regulated … this ensures that all the games we watch are played on the level.”
As lawmakers grapple with the issue throughout the summer, one potential outcome during the next legislative session in January might straddle the line between full acceptance and prohibition is only allowing sports gambling on-site at existing casinos, Feigenbaum said.
If that’s the case, established gaming companies are likely to see a windfall.
“This is a real business opportunity for them,” he said.
Bell downplayed the potential earnings for casinos, citing a narrow margin.
It’s important, he said, “For people and policy makers to understand that authorizing sports wagering does not create a cash cow for properties or for the state.”
Historically, establishments only win between 2 and 4 percent on each bet, because odds and lines are set to encourage betting on both sides, he said. But offering something new could help bring in non-traditional gamblers who will be drawn to a property to bet on a sporting event.
“Our core belief is in bringing them into the facility, they are far more likely to do some additional spending in the casino they wouldn’t have done otherwise,” Bell said.