April 17, 2019

NYT: Sport betting, gaming, and Tunica

Timothy Williams details the disappointing sports betting revenue, and the state of the gambling business in Tunica, Mississippi, in particular, for the New York Times:

The vast majority of states have shied away from permitting such gambling and tapping into the nation's illegal sports gambling market, estimated to be worth $150 billion. But in places like Tunica, where people began legally betting on sports in August, the results, so far, have been underwhelming.

Sports betting is a logical addition to existing sports books and one I'd expect to have taken off right away. I wonder, though, whether Tunica's problem isn't their sports books per se, but rather a continuation of a long-running decline that sports betting has failed to blunt. Originally a curiosity for being an outpost of gaming action, Tunica succumbed to being in the middle of nowhere offering little beyond hotel-casinos.

Along Tunica's Main Street, there is a bank, a grocery and an antique shop alongside a few empty storefronts. The residential sections include well-tended homes shaded by oak trees, but also tiny shotgun shacks.

These are not tourist attractions. Storefronts didn't make Las Vegas a draw. There, resort hotels offer posh accommodations, dining, and varied spectacle for non-gamblers. Vegas's age-old name cache makes it a top-tier vacation option.

Atlantic City, long in decline itself, possesses less spectacle and resort attraction. Half of the casinos open at the city's peak tourist draw are now shuttered. The city's sole non-gaming tourist attraction remains a beautiful stretch of Atlantic Ocean shoreline.

In the grand scheme of US gaming establishments, Tunica is perhaps only a regional draw. It's difficult to support multiple hotel-casinos on regional interest, and a lower-income one at that.

Perhaps the primary factor harming sports betting's aspirations, though, is the internet. The urge to bet sports is ephemeral, and few will linger hours in a sports book the way they will for slot machines and table games. Why travel at all for a brief interaction at the book? Sports bettors will wait for legal, online books to flourish while they continue patronizing illegal operations.

Internet casinos offering legal sports books will eventually garner the income projected for places like Tunica. And Las Vegas will remain, for a while yet, America's playground for its wide variety of attractions.