As we push into the New Year, let’s take a final look back at the one just past. 2017 saw some unwelcome changes in the iconic Vegas tourism marketing model, and of course, one of the greatest tragedies of our time, right on the Las Vegas Strip.
But there were more highs than lows, including some major US online gaming legislation, and most importantly, hope for widespread legal sports betting in any American state that chooses to embrace it, pending a SCOTUS decision that’s due in the spring.
Speaking of sports, a longstanding dichotomy between sports betting and the NFL was challenged when tha Oakland Raiders decided to become Sin City’s first football team.
Let’s take one last look in the rear view mirror before we sally bravely into 2018.
Las Vegas Gets Charged Up
The gaming mecca’s credo that “everything is free, except the gambling” was slowly but steadily eroded in 2017, to the general distress of the local populace and tourists alike. Caesars properties and Wynn Resorts followed MGM Resorts’ lead in ditching free parking, and the Strip’s status as “parking heaven” was suddenly no more.
Was nothing sacred? There were even rumors of the major Strip casinos clamping down on free drinks for gamblers, amid talk of new “comp validation systems” and “minimum gambling thresholds” and other phrases to make anyone who’s ever planned a Las Vegas trip and excluded an adult beverage budget shudder.
Football and Hockey Take Hold
Some Las Vegans took solace in the fact that at last, the city had its very own major league sports team. In fact, it had two. While the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders broke ground on their new $1.9 billion stadium, the Las Vegas Golden Knights began playing their first NHL games to packed and enthusiastic crowds.
And yes, they were taking bets on these games in the sports books, as they will for Raiders games, which was truly an indication of how much the leagues’ attitudes towards regulated sports betting have thawed in recent years.
This could bode well for New Jersey in 2018, although, for now, the leagues remain committed to challenging the state through the courts. Let’s just say when it comes to this relationship: it’s complicated.
SCOTUS Takes the Case
That the Supreme Court opted to hear New Jersey’s appeal, rather than reject it, like the 98 percent of cases that comes its way, offered very real hope that there was judicial sympathy for the argument that PASPA was a violation of the 10th Amendment.
Arguments put forth at a preliminary hearing in December were promising, and the industry will wait with bated breath for the final SCOTUS decision on the case in 2018, as will the handful of states that have passed or introduced legislation to have regulated sports betting in the event of a positive ruling for New Jersey.
Fantasy No More
Speaking of legal challenges, daily fantasy sports (DFS) market leaders DraftKings’ and FanDuel’s highly anticipated merger was scuttled earlier in 2017, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled it amounted to the creation of an illegal monopoly. Rather than fight and blow millions challenging the ruling, the two cash-strapped companies each decided to shrug it off and go it alone.
Caesars Emerges Triumphant
And after two years of incredibly messy and expensive bankruptcy proceedings, which involved Caesars fighting creditor lawsuits while ducking accusations of asset stripping, the casino giant’s main operating unit finally emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The unit, CEOC, has been spun into a real-estate investment trust, part of a major reorganization of the entire group that saw its private equity backers ultimately ceding majority control to appease creditors. The reshuffle has shaved billions from the company’s industry-high debt, and a new, leaner Caesars has emerged from the melee.
Pennsylvania Goes Legal, Australia Doesn’t
2017 will perhaps be remembered primarily by the industry for Pennsylvania finally getting its act together on gambling expansion and legalizing online casino gaming and internet poker. With New Jersey signing a liquidity-sharing deal with Nevada, and Pennsylvania open to jumping into that pool, things could be finally looking up for American online poker.
The Keystone State is the biggest state by population of the four that have legalized internet gaming to date, and will almost double the potential US player pool. The licensing process is likely to last throughout 2018, and while we could see the first online gambling companies operating in PA before the end of this year, liquidity sharing will almost certainly take longer to realize.
Better late than never, though, and the good news is that online poker overall took a slight upturn this year, after many where it was in decline. But while Pennsylvania politicos were finally making bold moves, they were rolling back the clock Down Under: Australia banned the game outright.
Elsewhere, in the Asian sector, Macau continued to recover from its long-running economic slump, while the Philippines’ Entertainment City in Manila emerged as a new casino powerhouse, thanks largely to improved relations with China and a resulting tourism boom.
And Japan continues to hold out hope for a casino industry in 2018, which has major players like Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts, and Las Vegas Sands all salivating for their piece of what they are sure will be a very lucrative pie.
A lively year for the gaming sector was sadly marred by mass violence, not just in Las Vegas, but in the Philippines as well.
The actions of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock and Manila gunman and arsonist Jessie Javier Carlos, which combined, killed 95 and injured many hundreds in the two gaming mainstays, forced operators to confront the uneasy balance between the open hospitality of their casino resorts and the need to double down on security in an increasingly dangerous world.