We begin with a deep dive into a form of gambling that's sweeping the nation: sports betting. Odds are, it's now legal or about to become legal somewhere near you. Sports betting brings a wide range of benefits, complications and concerns— depending on who you ask. Today, we're heading out west to learn more in one of America's most robust sports wagering markets.
Colorado’s three casino towns have added a new gamble to the house collection: sports. In Black Hawk, Bally’s has partnered with sports betting operator DraftKings, remodeling a big section of this casino for a whole new crowd.
(video from casino) This was the action for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Chris Cramer: So we have 8 of these kiosks on our property.
Chris Cramer is Director of Casino Operations for Bally’s Black Hawk. Our parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group has ownership in and a business relationship with Bally’s.
Cramer: So for example, if I wanted to bet tonight on the Phoenix Suns to win that game, I could bet $20 as my stake and my return would be $28.88.
Legal betting debuted in Colorado on May 1, 2020, around the time the Covid shutdowns arrived, the casinos shut their doors, and most sports stopped. But mobile apps make it easy for most anybody in Colorado to place bets using their phones, and they found something to wager on.
Cramer: Last year during the pandemic, it was table tennis in Europe that they were betting on because that was one of the only sports available.
Sharyl: Ping pong?
Cramer: Yeah, ping pong. And then, now one of the things that one of our better players bets on is various soccer tournaments and games around the world. That's one of the favorite things to bet on.
Ping Pong particularly Russian ping-pong, generated $63.5 million dollars in sports bets in Colorado during 2020— right behind football, baseball, and basketball.
Dan Hartman: When the pandemic hit and they closed the casinos, they don't have to come here to set up their account. They can actually do it online. They can look at their odds online, and as long as they're in the state of Colorado, geofenced to the state, inside the state of Colorado, they can then make a bet.
Dan Hartman is the Director of the Colorado Division of Gaming. He worked to bring medical marijuana to the Boulder State in 2010 and, now, sports betting which was narrowly approved by Colorado voters in 2019.
Sharyl: What's the idea, philosophically, behind you being involved in bringing those ventures to Colorado?
Hartman: I think, you know, we as the Department of Revenue, or in our specialized business group, we get those kinds of programs to come up, just because they collect a lot of revenue.
Sharyl: Was the big pitch, in essence, tax revenue?
Hartman: So, I think tax revenue is one of those things, and it's also taking off of, taking the black market.
Sharyl: Can you explain how big the offshore black market for betting was for people, maybe here in America, that were finding a way to gamble anyway on sports?
Hartman: It's been really, estimated at well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Here in Colorado, maybe two and a half billion dollars, maybe more.
A ten percent tax on sports gambling revenue largely goes to benefit Colorado’s water department. West Virginia legalized sports gambling in 2018 with revenue going to the basic treasury.
Sharyl: How's it working out so far?
Ben Queen: It’s, well, our revenues are higher than expected.
Ben Queen is a delegate in West Virginia’s House, and chair of the Small Business and Economic Development Committee. He happened to be visiting a Bally’s Black Hawk casino while we were there.
Ben Queen: I think young people are, especially when it comes to visiting West Virginia and choosing to live in West Virginia, you want some of that nightlife too. So it's neat for us to be able to attract some of those nightlife crowds for young people.
And where sports betting is opening up so are new jobs.
Christian Genetski: Speaking for FanDuel alone, we're looking to more than double over the next year, in size.
Christian Genetski is with FanDuel, an online gaming company that operate legal sports betting in twelve states including Colorado.
Genetski: And so we have, particularly in the tech space, we're fighting for high class tech talent, like many across a number of sectors. But we have jobs in customer service, we have jobs in legal, we have jobs in finance. We have, if you go to our job page now, there are endless postings. And we're not alone in that. That is a hiring boom that we're seeing across the sector.
Ever since the Supreme Court tossed aside a federal ban on sports betting in 2017, the game has been on a roll.
Twenty-nine states and Washington DC now have some form of legal sports betting. It's approved and coming soon in three more. And nine additional states are considering giving it the green light.
One looming concern is how many gamblers may find it irresistibly addictive. Hartman says that’s baked into the equation, with tools that let betters set their own limits.
Hartman: If you're having a weekend and you start to find yourself being drawn in too much, you can hit pause and really stop for a while. And the operator won't bring you back up until that time limit's run or, and, or until you've gone past it and want to come back.
Sharyl: Well, the only problem is if you're an addict, you're probably not necessarily going to take yourself off.
Hartman: Well, and they may go to other places. But I know that sports books, the operators, actively, they actively look at their patrons and where they're at. And if they seem to be moving in the wrong direction, they may have one of their people call or give them a message to talk about where they're going.
Nancy Lantz: Way back in the 90s when casinos first hit, there was nobody else.
Nancy Lantz was the first certified gambling counselor in Colorado. Her private practice, and work at prisons and a psychiatric hospital, have been loaded with addicts ever since.
Sharyl: Now, all these years later, sports betting has become legal in Colorado. How has that impacted the climate, in your view, when you’re talking about addiction?
Lantz: You know, it's just like when casinos first hit. We weren't ready for it. And then all of a sudden here we open up betting and we didn't have enough prevention. We didn't have counselors. We didn't have the resources to take care of the people that have the downside of it.
Sharyl: What are some typical stories that you've seen when it comes to sports gambling addiction?
Lantz: I have one gentleman, he was working from home, and for relaxation he would, or on his breaks, he would log in and do some sports betting. And he's ended up with over $200,000 in debt. A lot of people voted for the sports gambling without information about the downside. I don't think there was anybody that was advertising or gave information about what the downside would be. I don't think any of the mental health counselors really knew how bad it was going to be. And then again, it was a perfect storm with Covid hitting.
For better or for worse, sports betting is proving to be a magnetic draw to many. Colorado's first year drew $2.3 billion in bets. Only a tiny slice of that ends up going to the state. After operators pay winnings and federal taxes, and take deductions, the 10% tax on what’s left amounted to two tenths of one percent of the billions, about $6.6 million, for Colorado’s water program.
Sharyl: What can you tell people about the national landscape?
Hartman: I think legislatures and governments are looking at it as another form of entertainment, another form or way to raise money. Certainly in any state's budget, it seems to be a good way to go.
Sharyl: What would be your answer if someone says, "I'm worried about this?”
Cramer: My answer is they don't need to be worried about sports betting coming because it's already there. Sports betting has been going on in every state pretty much, non-legally, since the beginning of sports. So, to anybody that has those concerns, I would say the concerns really aren't there. This is just a better way to do something that people have already been doing.
Sharyl (on-camera): While some insist sports betting adds to problems like homelessness. Politicians in California say legalized sports betting could create revenue to help the homeless.