DraftKings, FanDuel CEOs Enjoy ‘Kumbaya Moment’ Onstage At G2E

Sweeping keynote session featured six top sportsbook and gaming execs

Among the more memorable moments during a Tuesday morning keynote session at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas came at the very end, when DraftKings CEO Jason Robins closed his remarks by effusively praising Amy Howe, his counterpart at FanDuel Casino who’s been on the job for about a year.

“Amy’s done a fantastic job,” Robins gushed. “It’s one thing to take a new job, but when you’re in the midst of an industry being built and to be able to absorb it like she did is remarkable.”

Robins went on to note that the rival sports betting and media companies are “philosophically aligned,” adding, “We’ve been doing this together for a long time. And since Amy has stepped in, the relationship has only gotten stronger.”

And on that note, moderator Contessa Brewer of CNBC said, “I think the timing is right to leave on a Kumbaya moment.”

An hour-and-a-half earlier, American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller kicked off the proceedings in a packed Venetian Ballroom by noting that Americans now bet $300 billion annually through illegal gaming websites and machines.

“Can you imagine a smartphone industry where a third of the revenue goes to illegal operators?” Howe said later, alluding to the statistic.

“It is a massive thing that tens of millions of Americans are betting in illegal markets,” said Robins. “Not only does that create a threat in terms of having something that’s not safe for consumer, from a competitive standpoint it also puts us at a disadvantage because we have to pay taxes and do checks.”

Safety, security, and … water

After Miller’s remarks, Brewer welcomed Craig Billings and Derek Stevens — CEOs of Wynn Resorts and Circa, respectively — to the stage to talk about Las Vegas and the broader gaming market.

Early in their chat, Brewer called Stevens “the sole mogul in Las Vegas in a town that used to be chockablock full of them.” She then asked about the challenges of the current economic climate and how that’s impacted Stevens’ mindset.

“Liquidity and higher interest rates are one thing, but the supply chain issues, you end up with uncertainty on guaranteeing an opening date,” he said. “I would definitely be more conservative than what I was three years ago.”

Referring to last week’s fatal stabbing that occurred near the Wynn in Las Vegas, Brewer asked Billings and Stevens to discuss not only public safety in Sin City, but also cybersecurity and water conservation.

“Just those?” Billings quipped.

Striking a more serious tone, he said that the “advent of digital” has created challenges that “require a lot of vigilance.” 

On public safety, he said, “Safety is a societal issue and Las Vegas is not immune to societal issues,” and then noted, “It’s hard to find a safer location than the Las Vegas Strip.”

Stevens wound up fielding the aquatic portion of the question, saying, “If we turned on every shower in Las Vegas, there’s no loss of water. This is a closed-loop system. Las Vegas is the most water-efficient community in the country by a longshot.”

Skill-based games ‘a catastrophe in the making’

Once Brewer’s discussion with Billings and Stevens came to a close, Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim and PENN Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden sat down to chat about regional casino trends and growth.

Brewer opened by asking the pair for their feelings on “omnichannel,” with Billings saying PASPA’s repeal and the dawn of legal, nationwide sports betting “really opened the door” for his company to pursue younger customers through digital products.

Shortly thereafter, Brewer asked whether Kim and Snowden felt there might eventually be a gaming backlash due in part to kids “being exposed to persistent gambling ads.”

“If we don’t self-regulate as an industry, you’re gonna get regulated in ways you’re probably not going to be too excited about,” said Snowden, pointing to tightening European regulations around gaming. “You don’t treat that responsibly, you’re headed to a bad place fast.”

Referring to Bally’s acquisition of Gamesys and the subsequent takeaways, Kim added, “The RG (responsible gambling) there (in Europe) is even more sophisticated than the most sophisticated land-based systems [in the United States]. In the land grab of getting to sports betting revenue numbers, you’re not seeing that, but I absolutely believe there will be a backlash. …Responsible gaming has to be core to our business product. Gaming is such a powerful product that you have to build in responsibility.”

Later in the discussion, Brewer recalled a road trip she recently took where she encountered “illegal machines” at truck stops and kids’ arcade games that “look like a slot machine.”

“This idea of skill-based games and gray market games … this is a catastrophe in the making,” responded Brewer. “It’s a reputational issue for our industry. We need to get on it and we need help getting on it, from our regulators and lawmakers.

“I grew up in Las Vegas. I have a couple good friends and a family member with a gambling problem. If we get them evicted from a casino, where do you think they’re going? The tavern or convenience store with skill-based games.”

Brewer then pointed to Ontario, Canada, and praised regulators there for giving gray market operators “a grace period” to come into the regulated market.

“I believe that all gaming should be brought to the surface, should be regulated, should be taxed,” said Kim. “There’s gaming happening in an unregulated form that should be brought under the umbrella.”

Conciliatory on California

For what was probably the most hotly anticipated pairing of the morning, Howe and Robins joined Brewer to discuss the future of iGaming and sports betting. Brewer started things off by asking Robins if, as rumored, DraftKings was on the precipice of a deal with ESPN that could involve operating a sports betting platform for the network.

“We have a partnership with them already,” said Robins, referring to various marketing relationships and ESPN parent company Disney’s existing stake in DraftKings. “Nothing else to really talk about at this point.”

In discussing FanDuel’s growth strategy, Howe noted that more than 50% of the company’s first-time bettors “are already moving toward parlays and player props,” and that a recently announced partnership with Gaming Society is part of FanDuel’s goal of “bringing more women onto the platform” and making its customer base “more inclusive and broader.” She also said that FanDuel had been “very successful” in getting sports bettors to try their hand at iGaming in states where the latter form of gambling is legal.

Brewer then asked Robins about DraftKings’ purchase of Golden Nugget and whether the latter entity would eventually be rebranded.

“DraftKings, as a brand, is very powerful with the sports audience, not so much with casino audience,” he replied. “The view that we had going in, and so far in our early data is playing out, is we can more effectively reach that audience with the Golden Nugget brand, which is more associated with casinos and is really an iconic brand dating back to the old Vegas days.”

On the topic of legalizing sports betting in California, where DraftKings, FanDuel, and their allies and opponents have poured some half-a-billion dollars into both sides of a pair of ballot proposals, Robins seemed to concede that he and Howe were headed for defeat, saying, “It’s more likely in ’24 that it will pass.”

Howe added that the sportsbooks “will absolutely live to fight another day” and said she still believed there’s a path to finding “a solution for all stakeholders,” including tribal gaming entities.

Photo: Shutterstock


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