The “wrong place” to rival Meadowlands retail revenues


“Our competitors are in the wrong place,” said Meadowlands owner Jeffrey Gural as the racetrack’s FanDuel Sportsbook continues to set the pace for retail sports betting revenues in New Jersey.

Speaking at this year’s inaugural Betting on Sports America (BOSA) conference in New Jersey (NJ), Gural admitted that the location of the Meadowlands facility delivered a big advantage “right off the bat” to the FanDuel Sportsbook.

The operator’s retail revenues have subsequently reached just short of $20.74 million for the first nine months of 2019. To put this in context, the William Hill-powered Monmouth Park sportsbook is next on the list for total revenues with $5.16 million. 

For FanDuel, this total included almost $4.3 million in March alone, as the first March Madness since PASPA repeal in May 2018 brought about a huge retail betting spike across the Garden State. 

Handle for online operators in March hit just short of $300 million ($298.28), beaten for the first time by record returns in September when a $374.2 million total for online handle was, inevitably, boosted by the return of NFL and college football.

The set up in NJ is such that the opportunity to obtain a licence for online sports betting is limited to the state’s land-based casinos and racetracks. Each can take up to three ‘skins’, which can either be assigned in-house branding or used to house the brand of a mobile sports betting partner.

Therefore, the conventional wisdom is that the state is on the road to 42 online sportsbooks, equating to three apiece for the nine Atlantic City casinos, the state’s three racetracks – Meadowlands, Monmouth Park and Freehold – and the sites of two former tracks, Garden State Park in Cherry Hill and Atlantic City Race Course.

While the two active Meadowlands skins – FanDuel and PointsBet – may be blazing a trail online, accounting for just less than half of NJ’s total year-to-date (YTD) revenues ($75.01 of $152.39 million), the dominance is even more discernible on the retail side. 

The $20.74 million equates to more than 54 per cent of the state’s YTD retail revenues for sports betting – a figure that was still north of 60 per cent at the end of July.

“Obviously I’m in a unique situation because of the location,” said Gural. “Our competitors in New Jersey are in the wrong place. Simply because there’s only 1.5 million people that live within 50 miles of Atlantic City, and there’s about 16 million that live within 50 miles of the Meadowlands.”

Inevitably, the Meadowlands’ clientele includes a significant contingent of New Yorkers, who can quite easily cross over the George Washington Bridge, place a bet and go home. New York laws dictate that you can now bet on sports, but only at four upstate casinos. 

Gural was speaking on a BOSA panel about the ‘future of retail betting’ alongside panelists including OPTIMA Retail Product Director Ivo Dimitrov and Charles Cohen, Vice President of Sports Betting at International Game Technology (IGT).

Dimitrov spoke about the importance of bringing the omnichannel approach to the US, explaining that “most of the time they are like silos” – where an operator treats a player as both a retail customer and an online customer, rather than under one single profile.

Meanwhile, Cohen – whose company supplies self-service betting terminals (SSBTs) to FanDuel as part of a wider technology deal – defined legal sports betting in the US as primarily a retail opportunity with mobile on top, highlighting that there are “something like 1,000 casinos who probably will have a sportsbook in the next 10 years”.

However, he cautioned that there is a balance to be found between the adoption of technology such as the SSBTS, or ‘kiosks’ – which helped FanDuel to eliminate the lines during the football season – and preserving the social experience.

“All of the casinos have different needs, and there’s a trade off,” said Cohen. “A lot of the time, the way this trade off is perceived by the operator is a cost equation, because people cost money. Skilled people able to write tickets and take responsible decisions about whether to accept a bet are expensive, and hard to find.

“A casino that struggles to recruit reasonably well qualified floor managers will find it even harder in sports betting where there isn’t an existing pool of expertise and experience. The trade off is therefore often between the lower cost, more automated experience and the high cost, more personal experience.

“That’s what they’re trying to balance. A lot of the retail operations are not competing with online in a legal market, they’re competing with the grey market. I think they’re beginning to understand that this isn’t just about price, but about the quality of the experience.”