October 29, 2018

ESPN's Scott Van Pelt: Casinos must be cautious about sports-betting impact

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt recently talked about the impact of sports betting on casinos at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.

States that have legalized sports betting

Delaware

Mississippi

New Jersey

Nevada

New York (partial legalization)

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

West Virginia

Source: HBJ research

ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt cautioned gaming executives recently not to count on sports betting to drive traffic to their casinos.

While there is a pot of gold for sharp sports book operators, bettors will demand mobile options, he said. The key to success is being nimble and adaptive.

It's a message with particular importance for Connecticut's casinos. Both Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun are pressuring the state to move quickly on legalizing sports betting, but their ability to offer mobile betting beyond the casino property is in doubt.

Van Pelt made his comments in a keynote address at the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, the industry's largest gathering of the year.

It was a rare daylight sighting of Van Pelt, who has burnished his status as a pro-gaming sage while anchoring ESPN's midnight Sports Center show from Bristol.

In developing the format for his show, he explained that he made it clear to ESPN that he "wasn't going to ignore the elephant in the room. I'm going to jump on its back and ride it."

He was in the vanguard of sports journalists who stepped out and discussed sports betting openly. His signature "bad bets" segment has entertained and educated an audience facing a wave of new sports-betting opportunities.

While sports-betting talk is a key element of the program, he said he has no aspirations to do more about betting.

In wide-ranging comments, he dismissed suggestions that the integrity of sports is at risk with expanded betting. Pro athletes earn too much money to take the risk but he urged closer scrutiny of underpaid officials.

He predicted an explosion of in-play betting as technology moves forward and makes it possible to bet on the outcome of the next play from the comfort of your living room. Again, he made the point that bet shops "had better be great at mobile."

Challenged by an audience question about journalism's role in combating problem gambling, Van Pelt said the topic of addiction is personal to him, disclosing that his father had been an alcoholic. He scoffed at issuing a disclaimer with every show but said he'd continue to look for an answer.

In a rapidly shifting landscape, he explained, ESPN and its competitors are all looking for the line about what's acceptable and what's helpful.

Sports betting in CT

Legalizing sports betting in Connecticut was a hot topic this year but the effort died in August after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy suspended talks with the state's two federally recognized tribes over a new gambling compact.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven) said there was wariness among legislators in both parties about trying to quickly establish the conditions under which sports betting would be allowed in Connecticut, where the presence of two tribal casinos complicate any gambling expansion.

The next governor and new General Assembly will likely take up the issue starting in January. All three major gubernatorial candidates have expressed openness to legalizing sports betting.

The attraction for Connecticut is potential new tax revenues, which could amount to as much as $20 million a year, according to one estimate.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations have the right under federal law to offer any form of gambling that is otherwise legal in Connecticut. A further complication is the tribes have exclusive rights to all forms of casino gambling under deals struck 25 years ago. In return they pay the state 25 percent of their gross slots revenue.

One unresolved issue: Is sports betting, long offered at Las Vegas casinos, a form of casino gambling? If so, the state offering it would abrogate the slots deal that produces more than $250 million annually for Connecticut, though the revenue is projected to shrink now that MGM has opened its new $960 million casino in Springfield.

Sports betting seemed to be on the fast track in May after a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down Nevada's monopoly and gave every state the right to allow sports betting. Malloy quickly obtained an informal go-ahead from legislative leaders to open negotiations with the tribes, before talks stalled at the end of August.

A Connecticut Mirror report was used in this story.

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