Sportsbooks in Nevada have not seen a drop in profits since more states offer this type of gaming. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the $185.6 million bet at Nevada casinos on the Super Bowl in February set a record, sports betting is really no big deal in the state or locally—at least when it comes to revenues.

“The sportsbook would make a couple million dollars a year in gross profit and then it roughly equates to a million dollars to the bottom line. In the big picture at Harrah’s and Harveys, that is a pimple on their butt,” says a retired casino manager from the Stateline properties. “They are better than poker rooms. Poker rooms make nothing, so to speak. But both things are in there to make it a full service casino; to attract people for other things.”

Sports betting revenues were bleak at Lakeside Inn and Casino as well, but had nothing to do with the property closing in 2020.

“The sportsbooks are very labor intense and costly. We made so little that I stopped owning our own sportsbook and leased the space to William Hill a few years before we closed,” explained Stacy Noyes, former president of Lakeside. “They basically took on most of our employees and I just collected rent.”

Gaming experts say sports betting not being an economic driver has nothing to do with the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 repealing the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). It’s always been this way.

“Sports gambling doesn’t generate a lot of revenue by itself. Where its shows impact is in everything else,” Alan Feldman, gaming expert at the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, said. Those other things are room nights, food, drinks, shows, and gambling at the tables and slots.

PASPA opened up sports betting to every state. At the time only Nevada allowed sports betting—at least legally—so the economic impact to the Silver State could have been impactful. Today, 38 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., allow sports betting.

The numbers before and after PASPA (see chart) prove expansion of sports betting has not hurt local casinos.

That could change if California approves sports betting. Two initiatives to grant this type of gaming failed in 2022. People in the know expect voters will have an opportunity to revisit the idea in the coming years. With more than 20 major league teams in the state, sports is clearly important to the residents of the Golden State. And with 76 Indian casinos in the state, Californians clearly like to gamble.

Money matters

Stateline casino sportsbook figures

Year       Amount people bet    Casinos’ income              Contribution to bottom line

2016        $71,849,088.33             $4,901,226.02                   2.3 percent

2017        $65,487,562.75             $4,981,650.16                   2.2 percent

2018        $61,881,951.85             $6,551,623.74                   2.8 percent

2019        $62,631,192.81             $5,469,032.81                   2.4 percent

2020        $52,887,520.20             $5,802,834.84                   3.2 percent

2021        $79,381,282.10             $6,104,997.30                   2.4 percent

2022        $97,152,894.00             $5,069,413.00                   1.9 percent

2023        $76,865,360.95             $6,613,170.02                   2.7 percent

Source: Gaming Control Board

Feldman explained how about half of the $185 million that was wagered on the Super Bowl is returned to winners.

“By the time you take expenses out you are hoping as a sportsbook to have a 3 to 5 percent margin,” he said. “Online you do a little bit better because you don’t have the same level of expenses. If you take that 3 to 5 percent of $185 million, that is the economic impact to Nevada. That is what stayed here.”

Stateline sportsbooks’ overall take from 2016 through 2023 was minimal, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The contribution to the bottom line in that eight-year period ranges from 1.9 percent to 3.2 percent, or $4.9 million to $6.6 million.

In 2023, people dropped $30,622,793.99 on football games at the Stateline casinos, $22,329,927.97 on basketball, $13,974,434.37 on baseball, and $2,866,077.29 on hockey.

The take for the South Shore casinos last year on football was $2,952,949.71, basketball $1,392,734.41, baseball $1,235,937.52, and hockey $390,689.87.

“From a statewide view PASPA has not hurt Nevada sports betting at all. It is booming,” Mike Latton, senior analyst with the Gaming Control Board, said. “Sports betting is so popular. It’s so accepted. It’s no longer in the shadows. It goes hand-in-hand with betting on your phone. You have a sportsbook in your pocket. A huge driver of success is mobile wagers on a phone.”

Who’s in charge      

William Hill runs the sportsbooks at Bally’s Lake Tahoe and Golden Nugget Lake Tahoe. No one from the London-based company responded to an inquiry.

No one from Caesars Entertainment, which owns Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and Harveys, returned calls. Same with Golden Nugget. A Bally’s worker wouldn’t give his name and said he didn’t have much experience in the sportsbook.

Harrah’s and Harveys, the latter being the larger of the two sportsbooks with multiple televisions and kiosks for betting, for years had a locally operated sportsbook. When William Hill came in a few years ago things went haywire. No longer were issues able to be resolved in-house or quickly.

Caesars Entertainment solved that problem by spending $3.7 billion in 2021 to acquire the company. Even so, the local properties are not run by William Hill, but instead by Caesars Sportsbook.

Even though Eldorado Resorts bought Caesars Entertainment for $17.3 billion in 2020, it opted to use the Caesars name. The acquisition created the largest casino and entertainment company in the United States.

“Sports betting changed significantly with the big guys like William Hill spreading across the state because you could bet anytime you want on their app if you were in Nevada,” Noyes said.

Stateline casinos have sportsbooks, but they aren’t big money makers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Local appeal

Not everyone is thrilled with the changes, at least locally. Some longtime gamblers prefer personal interactions with sportsbook employees instead of having to bet via a kiosk, which is becoming the norm.

“They suck. It’s absolutely awful. The bottom line is they want everything to be automated. It’s a nightmare,” said Sharla Freeman, who has a home in Zephyr Cove.

She and her husband, Jay, like to make regular, albeit small like $10 a game, bets on football and basketball. Today, the thrust is to get people to use kiosks to place bets instead of relying on an employee to make the exchange.

“If you go into Harveys at 9am on NFL Sunday, there is very likely to be 100 to 150 people waiting to bet. You try to get that done on six kiosks; it just doesn’t work. People were getting fed up,” Freeman said.

Her husband has the Caesars app, but it only works in the state where he signed up for it. And that’s not Nevada, so this just adds to their frustrations.

“It got to where I don’t even want to go in there anymore,” Freeman said of Harveys. “I will go to Bally’s sometimes and make my bets. Bally’s will actually have some people there and have more sheets.”

The sheets with all the games available used to be the only way to place a bet. People could pick one up a few days ahead of game time and peruse what they wanted to gamble on. For people who don’t want to bet with mobile devices this now leaves the kiosks as the preferred way—at least preferred by casinos.

“This was the first year that the Las Vegas-Stateline sportsbooks did away with their numbered betting options. This makes it extremely difficult to make bets from the printed prop bet sheets that the sportsbook passes out,” explained a South Lake Tahoe resident who has more than 40 years of betting experience from bookies to sportsbooks. “We went to three different sports writers who could not find our bets on their computers. We ended up with the sportsbook manager and general manager both working on placing our bets. It took about an hour and a half to finally place our bets with both of those guys helping us. Last year and prior years every bet had a number next to it, so it took no more than five seconds to make a bet.”

These locals have noticed a decrease in the number of people at the sportsbooks. The dollars, though, prove people are betting. Apps allow it to be done outside the sportsbook.

“Back a few years ago you were not even allowed to use your cell phone in the sportsbook,” the South Lake bettor said. “Now everybody is on their cell phone in the sportsbook. Now with the betting apps you can bet during the game with lines always changing based on the current score.”

Without the casinos commenting, it’s hard to know if the change to the kiosks is to reduce the number of employees and/or trying to be convenient or some other reason.

As Freeman says, “I don’t think they care if you are there.”

Note: This story first appeared in the Tahoe Mountain News.

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