BOSA Digital: William Hill US chief sees more expansion of sports betting

Joe Asher, CEO of the company that handles about a quarter of the legal sports bets in the country, predicted that California, Texas, and Florida will legalize sportsbooks eventually.

Barely 30 months since all states got the option to regulate sports betting, the United States is well on its way to becoming the world’s largest bookmaking market, the head of William Hill US said today.

Joe Asher, CEO of the company that handles about a quarter of the legal sports bets in the country, predicted that California, Texas, and Florida will legalize sportsbooks eventually.

“There’s obviously political considerations, but this is a great source of revenue for the states and it’s something that people want,” Asher said in a keynote interview opening the Betting On Sports America Digital conference. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that over time you’ll see legislation passed.”

About 2,500 delegates and 130 speakers are expected to participate in the two-day virtual event.

William Hill US has operations in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Caesars Entertainment intends to purchase the company’s parent, London-based William Hill PLC, for $3.7 billion. The deal is expected to close in March, pending approval by state and federal regulators.

For Asher, the deal is another landmark in a career that traces back to calling horse races at age 16. In 2008, he started a legal bookmaking company, Brandywine, in Nevada.

“(NFL) Sundays were a lot of sweat back in the early Brandywine days, that’s for sure,” he told interviewer Howard Stutz, executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. “My bankroll was on the line effectively.”

William Hill PLC bought Brandywine in 2012, well before the May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door to legal sports betting in other states. “It’s amazing to see how quickly the business has grown and the sophistication of it today relative to when we started,” Asher said.

Sports betting is now legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Most of the 19 jurisdictions with active sportsbooks allow wagering online.

Asher said professional leagues have embraced legal sports betting, a turnabout from years of opposing it. He noted that in the early 2000s, the NFL rejected a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau request for an ad during the Super Bowl because of the stigma of sports betting. Now the league has a team in Las Vegas, as does the NHL. William Hill has a sportsbook at Washington’s Capital One Arena, home to the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals.

“To go from fighting sports betting to a sportsbook literally inside the arena is quite a shift,” Asher said.

“The leagues were kind of in this box where they had had been opposed to sports betting for so long. … And yet times were clearly changing, and we had this massive black market, which did not in any way really help the leagues or the governments or anybody else than the illegal bookmakers.”

Asher said America is a lucrative sports betting market because of its large population and the relative wealth of its citizens. While some sports betting operators try to attract customers through aggressive promotions or media tie-ins, he said William Hill’s strength is the sports betting operation itself.

“The landscape is developing. It’s clearly going to be competitive for some period of time,” he added. “In my view, over time, product is going to win in this market. It’s going to be who’s got the most compelling product.”

Even with the purchase by Caesars, Asher said he expects the William Hill brand to continue to be available to third-party partners, with the Caesars brand in Caesars properties.

Asher said the November election underscored the acceptance of legal sports betting, as voters overwhelmingly approved measures in Maryland, Louisiana, and South Dakota.

The public is “clearly weighing in in favor of a legal, regulated option, as opposed to being relegated to the black market,” he said.

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