LARAMIE – The first month of legalized sports betting in Wyoming wrapped up only two weeks ago, but the state’s gaming commission is already anticipating expansion in the near future.
DraftKings and BetMGM each launched in the Cowboy State on Sept. 1, with over $6 million in wagers being recorded between the two during their first month of operations. According to David Carpenter, project manager of sports wagering for the Wyoming Gaming Commission, the number of competitors in the state is likely to increase in the next month.
Carpenter stated that he “would expect at least one more operator to be approved” at the WGC’s Nov. 5 meeting, pointing to FanDuel and Penn National Gaming’s Barstool Sportsbook as two potential additions that have been communicating with the commission about launching in Wyoming. He also notes that he’s had “quite a bit” of discussions with PointsBet, which he hopes to have onboard in the next six months to a year.
Wyoming is looking at a net loss for its first month of legalized sports gambling, in large part due to a bevy of promotions that come along with new sportsbooks launching in the state – DraftKings offered new users a $200 bonus to go along with their first deposit, while BetMGM promoted a risk-free bet of up to $1,000. Winnings were about 15% less than total wagers during September, but roughly $1 million in non-cash winnings – coming from sources such as bonuses and promotions – have resulted in a slight deficit.
“The operators said this is kind of a typical thing for the first month, and I’m not surprised,” Carpenter said.
While Wyoming is well below the early estimates of up to $450 million in annual handle, or total amount of money wagered, Carpenter believes increased competition will help the state grow from a revenue standpoint.
“From an overall sports wagering perspective, I heard a lot of talk about $450 million in total handle,” he said. “Obviously, based on what we’ve discussed, we’re not going to get there. One month in, we’re at $6 million, and $450 million is a long ways off.
“I think we just need to continue to get really strong operators and give everyone an opportunity to find the markets they like. Some people might like an operator’s interface or software a little more than others, so hopefully we have a lot of competition.”
With new competitors on the way, DraftKings plans to continue offering customers an array of promotions – from odds boosts to free pools on topics that range from sporting events to weather, politics and reality television shows. Draftkings Head of Sportsbook Johnny Avello encourages Wyoming residents to take advantage of the risk-free opportunity the pools create, stating that “we don’t just stop because we come into a state and get everybody excited with some promos.”
“We put up the money and there’s no risk to the user, and some of those are fun,” Avello said. “Some of them have nothing to do with sports. They may have to do with weather, or politics, the Housewives show or Survivor or whatever. I’d like to tell users to continue to take advantage of those free pools.”
BetMGM did not respond to several questions related to the company’s upcoming plans and first month of operations in the state, but did provide the following statement: “BetMGM is extremely happy with our first month of being live in Wyoming. We expect and plan for competition in every state that we enter, and Wyoming is no different.”
Football reigns king
Following a nationwide trend, football was hands down the most popular sport to bet on both platforms in Wyoming during the month of September.
Unsurprisingly, the University of Wyoming was the most bet on college football team on DraftKings, followed by Notre Dame, Alabama, Iowa and Michigan. The Cowboys also had two of the top four most bet-on games by handle with its season opener against Montana State and a Sept. 25 road game at UConn.
Wyoming bettors are also putting down a significant chunk of money on NFL games, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders and Dallas Cowboys – all of which have had games broadcast in the state this season – leading the league in total handle wagered on.
“They certainly bet a lot on their college football team, Wyoming, but they also like to bet on some other teams,” Avello said. “The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team they were betting on, and why not? The team is a winner. They’re the Super Bowl champ from last year, and they’re a team that gets a lot of TV exposure.
“That’s something I’ve noticed. The pro teams that get the most (bets) are the teams that get a lot of TV exposure. Bucs, Chiefs, Packers and Las Vegas Raiders. These are big games that are on TV in primetime.”
While Wyoming does not have a professional football team of its own, Avello doesn’t see this as a hindrance, in large part due to the diverse array of offerings that DraftKings provides its users with. One example is the Super Bowl-style slate of proposition bets that fans are able to wager on from week to week.
“It’s true that people that live within a state like to bet on the teams that reside there, but if they don’t have it, there is just so much content out there on DraftKings – whether it be pro football, college, ice hockey or all the proposition bets that follow,” Avello said.
“You’ve heard of the Super Bowl props, and we do those Sunday for every single game. There’s a lot of content out there, and if you don’t have an in-state pro team that you can root for, I just think you resort to find some other additional content that you can relate to.”
Peeling back the layers
Although legalized sports gambling might be new to Wyomingites, legitimized wagering has a history in the state dating back to the 1960s.
Pari-mutuel betting and horse racing was the first domino to fall, with other areas, such as bingo, pull tabs, calcuttas and most recently skill-based amusement games following suit. With Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, leading the charge, House Bill 133 – legalizing mobile-only sports wagering – was passed through the Senate with 24-5 approval and signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon in early April.
“It’s kind of weird because Wyoming has it written that gambling is illegal,” Carpenter said. “We’ve taken these layers of gambling and carved them out, from pari-mutuel betting to historic horse racing to bingo and pull tabs or calcuttas. We added the skill-based amusement game layer earlier this year, and then sports wagering.
“We’ve been carving out layers, but the horse racing side of it and pari-mutuel started back in the late ‘60s, I believe.”
The arrival of legitimate sports gambling in Wyoming comes at a time when the industry has seen ever-growing approval. According to a 2019 study by the American Gaming Association, nearly 80% of Americans and more than 95% of current and potential bettors support legalized sports gambling in the state they call home.
By providing individuals in the state with a legal avenue to place wagers on sporting events, Carpenter hopes to cut into an illegal market that has grown over the decades in its absence.
“I’ve never seen a number, but I was well aware it was happening,” he said. “I’ve known bookies, or they call themselves bookies, across the state. Then there were a lot of people playing on those overseas apps and things like that. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of sports betting types in my life, or if it’s just pretty commonplace, but I think it’s a pretty significant chunk. My hope is that starts to dissipate.”
After falling well below its initial estimates in the first month, the WGC would like to see an increase in handle moving forward. That’s not the only goal, however.
Carpenter notes that he wants Wyoming to “become a leader – not only in the state, but nationally – on the responsible gaming front.”
“I think we’re well out in front of it,” he said. “We’re going to partner up with a company called Conscious Gaming and implement our self-exclusion program through what’s called PlayPause, which will create a national database where all the states are communicating about self-exclusion. Not only voluntary self-exclusion, but the involuntary type – student-athletes, coaches, things of that nature.”
The first $300,000 in sports betting revenue annually will go to the Wyoming Department of Health and be used toward gambling addiction-related services.
“It’s something we’re taking very seriously, and the industry is taking very seriously,” Carpenter said. “We have a responsible gaming liaison, and I’ve been working very closely with her.
“Sports wagering is the first time it’s ever really been addressed from a statute perspective. So, as a commission, not only are we really taking it seriously on the sports wagering side, but we’re taking it and going across skill-based games and pari-mutuel, trying to work it from an entire commission standpoint.”