Ironically, the US state best known for gambling is also a tough nut to crack for modern online gambling companies. Nevada’s economy depends heavily on the long-standing retail casino business in Las Vegas and, to a lesser extent, Reno.
There’s a lot of resistance to anything that would disrupt that. And for all its virtues, online gambling is nothing if not disruptive.
That’s made it hard for the new wave of online-first companies to establish any presence there. However, the world leader, Flutter, has now found just a tiny amount of traction for its flagship US brand, FanDuel.
On Wednesday, CDC Gaming Reports broke the news that the Nevada Gaming Control Board recommended that it receive limited entry to the state as part of its partnership with retail casino company Boyd Gaming.
“Limited” is a key word in that sentence. Nevada residents won’t be placing bets through the FanDuel Sportsbook mobile app any time soon. The company won’t even be running retail operations at Boyd casinos.
FanDuel will receive permission to support Boyd’s retail sportsbook at the Fremont Hotel & Casino in two specific ways:
- The sportsbook can use FanDuel branding, but only alongside its own, and,
- FanDuel can provide “information services” to the sportsbook
Update (25/08/2022): FanDuel Receives NGC Approval
Two weeks later, FanDuel received the necessary approval from the Nevada Gaming Commission.
Nevada is unusual in its two-bodied regulatory system. The Gaming Control Board generally acts in an advisory capacity while the Gaming Commission is the final authority. For applications like FanDuel’s, approval from both bodies is needed. Having now received the nod from each, FanDuel can move ahead with its plans.
What Kind of Information Services Will FanDuel Provide to Boyd?
“Information services” apparently does not mean that Boyd can use FanDuel’s software, even for its retail operations. The sportsbook will continue to use IGT’s platform, as it has been doing, but incorporating some specifications from FanDuel.
CDC reports that FanDuel’s attorney, Erica Okerberg, told the Board:
FanDuel will provide a line and odds feed, as well as information advice and guidance, to the Fremont sportsbook for their determination in setting lines and odds and managing their own risk.
In other words, the Fremont Casino’s sportsbook should start offering odds that match those found on FanDuel’s sites. Beyond that, it sounds like FanDuel staff will essentially be offering consulting-type services to Boyd.
In return, Flutter will get a share of Boyd’s revenue from the sportsbook and a chance to make the FanDuel brand visible at the classic “Old Vegas” property.
That visibility will be essential if Nevada becomes more permissive toward online gambling. FanDuel has relied on its daily fantasy sports product to bring its brand to consumers in other states before online gambling legalization. However, Nevada considers DFS a form of sports wagering, which has prevented the likes of FanDuel from offering it in the state since 2019.
The State of Online Gambling in Nevada
Nevada is the original sports betting state. It was the only one with legal betting when the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) came into effect in 1993.
That law made it impossible for other states to establish legal betting, but Nevada was grandfathered in. The Supreme Court struck down PASPA in 2018, and over half of US states have taken advantage of the opportunity to pass their own sports betting laws in just four years.
Many of those states allow online betting. Now, Nevada does as well but has an unfortunate in-person registration requirement. It implemented this to protect the interests of its land-based sportsbooks. It has helped to keep the likes of FanDuel and DraftKings out of the market.
The larger Nevada casino brands have been coming around on the subject of online gambling. At one time, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands were among its staunchest opponents, but that resistance came directly from those companies’ founders.
Recent years have seen Steve Wynn stepping down as CEO of his company and Sands founder Sheldon Adelson pass away. It didn’t take long for either company to move into the online space. WynnBet launched its online gambling product in late 2020, and Sands has been investing in online technology suppliers.
But Nevada is unlike other gambling states in the sheer number of small-time operators. Local casinos and taverns have the most to lose and thus remain a stumbling block. Legislatively speaking, online casinos have been possible in Nevada for a decade, yet the regulatory bodies have declined to approve them. An attempt last year to hold a public workshop to discuss the possibility never even got off the ground.
Any Progress is Good Progress
Still, FanDuel’s first baby step into the market is not insignificant.
For one thing, it shows that Nevada regulators are not being excessively hawkish at the moment. In the past, they’ve been extremely hostile to online companies that have rubbed them the wrong way. And back in 2015, FanDuel received a cease-and-desist from the Gaming Control Board for its DFS activities.
The PokerStars brand is unwelcome in the state, having operated illegally in the US from 2006 to 2011. That’s despite it having changed hands twice since then and having no overlap between its current leadership and the executives from that period. Even actions outside the US play into Nevada regulatory decisions. Entain (then known as GVC) nearly missed out on getting a license because it wasn’t quick enough in dealing with a newly acquired subsidiary that was acting illegally in Turkey.
Significantly, PokerStars is also now part of Flutter. FanDuel’s acceptance doesn’t mean that PokerStars can shed its bad actor status and bring its poker product to the state. However, it does at least suggest that the regulatory grudge doesn’t run so deep as to taint the entire conglomerate.
Will Online Gambling Ever Come to Nevada?
Having a foot in the door is vital for FanDuel because there are signs that other major operators feel the winds are shifting for online gambling in Nevada.
Entain and MGM Resorts have been getting ready to bring their BetMGM joint venture to Nevada, should that ever become possible. (Theoretically, they could launch BetMGM Poker any time they want but probably feel they can’t compete with WSOP for the time being.)
Yet, it’s tough to predict what will or won’t happen in Nevada. On the one hand, there’s no need to convince legislators, as the necessary law is already in place. The same one allowing Nevada online poker also permits online casinos if the regulators are on Board. Similarly, full online sports betting would simply require the removal of the in-person registration requirement.
It all comes down to finding a solution to appease those small retail gambling operators. Simply letting them go out of business isn’t an option, given how important they are for employment. That’s really the only hurdle, but it’s quite a tall one. While the state ponders that riddle, all Flutter and others can do is make sure they’re as well-positioned as they can be when the starting gun fires if it ever does.