Sports betting

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu shows his receipt after placing the first legal sports wagering bet on his mobile phone in on Dec. 30, 2019 in Manchester, N.H. Wyoming's first legal sports wager was placed Wednesday. Associated Press

LARAMIE – Wyoming is the latest state to join a once taboo industry that has gone mainstream in recent years, with legalized sports betting launching Wednesday in the Cowboy State.

The Wyoming Gaming Commission awarded the state’s first two sports betting licenses to BetMGM and DraftKings, both of which are live and accepting bets. All sports wagering in Wyoming will be conducted through online sportsbooks, and unlike most states, the legal age to partake has been set at 18 years old, rather than 21.

As the first operational sportsbooks in the state, BetMGM and DraftKings are positioned to establish a foothold in Wyoming before other competitors. FanDuel and Barstool Sportsbook are among the other operators that have expressed interest in entering the market.

“It’s a great privilege to be one of the first operators in the state,” BetMGM Chief Revenue Officer Matt Prevost said. “We know from other states that a lot of the individuals who are at least somewhat familiar with the idea of sports betting are those that are the early adopters in a given state. Even just a few days of delay (can be a negative).

“Some of the best customers are really there from day one, so we’re incredibly excited about being live in Wyoming.”

DraftKings took the first legal sports wager in the state Wednesday afternoon: a $1.10 bet on Jacksonville State, a 16.5-point underdog, to cover the spread against UAB in the FCS Kickoff college football game.

However, Draftkings Head of Sportsbook Johnny Avello – who has three decades of experience in the gambling industry, including 13 years as executive director of the Wynn Las Vegas Sportsbook prior to accepting his current role in 2018 – expects bettors in Wyoming to lay money down on plenty of locally relevant wagers, too.

The University of Wyoming football team, which kicks off its season against Montana State on Saturday, was a 17.5-point favorite for its opener as of Wednesday evening. The Cowboys also have 10-to-1 odds on DraftKings to win the Mountain West championship, while BetMGM has former UW star and current Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen listed with 14-to-1 odds to be named the NFL’s MVP.

“Being from Las Vegas, and Las Vegas being the only state that had sportsbook wagering at one time, it’s exciting to watch this grow,” Avello said. “I’m excited for Wyoming. You guys have a good college team there for football and basketball, and you also have a great player in the pros in Josh Allen, so I’m sure there will be some people backing the Bills along the way this year.

“It’s exciting for us at DraftKings for any state that comes onboard, and we’re happy to promote it up there.”

With sports betting still not operational in four of the six states that border Wyoming, Avello expects to see a trend of bettors traveling across state lines to place wagers. Once an individual crosses the border into Wyoming, they can download an app and be making bets within minutes.

“We’ve seen it in quite a few states,” Avello said. “We’re in Illinois in a place called East St. Louis, and people will drive across the bridge from St. Louis to go to the casino. We’re actually in some brick-and-mortar locations (in other states), and that’s not going to be the case in Wyoming. It’s all going to be digital, which is much easier.”

It wasn’t long ago legalized sports wagering was limited to the state of Nevada. Ever since the Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting in 2018, though, the industry has grown at an accelerated pace.

Wyoming is the 23rd state to accept a legal sports bet, and is the 13th and 14th state, respectively, that DraftKings and BetMGM have launched in.

What was once an off-limits subject for sports leagues and teams has now become an integral part of their operations. The NFL is a prime example – the league, which in 2015 canceled a fantasy football convention headlined by Tony Romo in Las Vegas due to gambling concerns, now has partnerships with multiple sportsbook operators.

“The NFL looked at us as the bad guys at one time, and now we have partnerships with the NFL and other leagues and teams. Sports wagering is now accepted,” Avello said. “Let’s take a game, for instance. It’s the fourth quarter, and the score is 30-19, and there’s three minutes to go in the game. Under normal circumstances, you’d turn the game off. It doesn’t mean anything, because we know who’s going to win.

“But, with in-game wagering and different types of point spreads, the total and different types of wagers, people stay tuned in. It’s kind of a win-win – not only for the operators that are taking the bets, but the leagues themselves.”

What might be an exciting time for sportsbooks has required increased precautions for the local university. In a statement, Wyoming athletics director Tom Burman wrote: “We are doing everything to educate our student-athletes on the perils of gambling. We have all also had specific contact with the FBI to help us in monitoring gambling activity in the region.”

However, that does not mean the Cowboys are going to ignore potential opportunities.

When asked if the university is open to engaging in partnerships or deals related to sports betting, whether directly or indirectly, Burman was straightforward in his response: “Yes.”

Such a partnership isn’t unprecedented, with the University of Colorado teaming up with the gambling company PointsBet last year for what is believed to be the first high-profile sports gambling deal in college sports. According to a Sports Illustrated report, the deal will net the Buffaloes at least $1.625 million as part of a five-year advertising agreement, in addition to other income related to referrals.

Avello did not shoot down the possibility of collegiate partnerships, pointing to DraftKings’s array of deals with professional leagues and teams, but did acknowledge that such a decision falls outside his realm of expertise. BetMGM does not have any plans to partner with colleges at the moment, according to Prevost.

“It’s a difficult situation, with potentially under-21 athletes,” he said. “We have to be really by the book with the regulator, so we tend to only work with professional athletes.”

Both BetMGM and DraftKings have goals set for their launch in Wyoming, as they do with any other state. Perhaps the most important factor in the early stages in a new market, though, is building trust with new customers.

“For me, it’s not always about the numbers. It’s about how smooth the process goes,” Avello said. “If people can log on easily, fund it easily, and they’re off and making bets, that’s a successful launch for me. Of course, there are long-term goals that we have, but that’s not necessarily the criteria initially. Initially, it’s (making sure) people that want to get on, let’s make sure they get on smoothly and have an enjoyable experience.”

Added BetMGM’s Prevost: “Ultimately, market share is largely determined by how good of an experience you can offer your customers.

“If you’re doing well in market share, you’re probably also doing well in providing a good experience. You’re making it easy for them to place wagers, deposit, withdraw, etc., which are all really important aspects of our business.”

Days like Wednesday are undoubtedly hectic for those at sportsbooks and other related businesses, as they scramble to make a splash in a new market.

However, for Prevost, these moments are also what make his job fun.

“These are my favorite days in the business, to be honest,” he said. “We’re just making another step and introducing a new brand to the market. It’s frenetic, it’s crazy at times, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.

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