One of the mysteries of the nascent sports betting industry in the United States has been the handle originating from New York. The Empire State launched retail sports wagering in July 2019, and it is currently available at four non-tribal casinos north of Manhattan.
The New York State Gaming Commission does not publicly disclose betting handle in its monthly revenue reports, and trying to estimate handle is extremely difficult since it also does not disclose the operator hold. In contrast, the Nevada Gaming Commission does not disclose handle in its monthly reports, but it provides the hold and revenue amounts — which allows a person to reverse engineer an accurate handle for the Silver State.
Sports betting is soon going to open up significantly in New York, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has rammed through an expansion to have widespread mobile wagering probably in place by the 2022 Super Bowl. He has boasted potential annual tax revenue of up to $500 million with a fully mature market to help plug budget shortfalls exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The devil is in the details as a framework is currently being pieced together in that compressed timeline with multiple moving parts.
When the bidding process for New York's mobile sports wagering platforms begins in July, DraftKings and FanDuel will enter as the favorites.@MattRybaltowski previews the nebulous but important situation.https://t.co/ZRdZ4dIzGa
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) April 15, 2021
But without any sense of what the existing handle is, even though it’s exclusively retail, how much trust can be put in those revenue estimates? How quickly can New York mature as a sports betting market to have the capability to generate $500 million in tax revenue from operators, regardless of what the tax rate will eventually be? These are questions that can start to be answered more accurately by knowing the handle.
The mystery of how much money has been wagered on sports in New York has been solved. And some of the numbers are enlightening, particularly the paltry cumulative handle of $231.1 million since launching in July 2019.
The numbers, please
|*Casinos closed due to COVID-19|
The New York State Gaming Commission fulfilled a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed May 17 by US Bets to provide the sports betting handle generated by Rivers Casino & Resort, Tioga Downs Casino, del Lago Resort and Casino, and Resorts World Catskills on a monthly basis from when bets were first accepted in July 2019 through April 2021.
In the 17 months of active wagering — casinos were closed from April through August 2020 due to the pandemic — the four sportsbooks combined have averaged less than $13.6 million per month in handle. The overall total includes a combined $65 million in 2021, “highlighted” by clearing $20 million for the first, and only, time in January.
New York’s 2021 handle ranks 16th among the 20 states currently accepting wagers — better than only Delaware, the District of Columbia, Arkansas, and Montana — and accounts for less than 0.4% of the more than $16.7 billion legally wagered this year in the country.
It also has a long way to go to catch No. 15 Oregon, which runs its sports betting through the state lottery and has generated nearly $50 million more in handle in 2021. The Empire State has failed to place higher than 16th in any monthly state handle rankings this year and was 17th in February as the nation’s capital knocked it down a peg.
Even during its top-performing month of January, New York’s handle accounted for less than 0.5% of the more than $4.38 billion wagered nationwide. One positive aspect of seeing New York’s month-by-month handle was that its February handle of $14 million pushed the national total over $4 billion, creating a three-month streak that ended with April’s national handle of $3.7 billion.
Another way to compare New York’s handle or lack thereof is to size it up against Indiana, which has approximately one-third the population of the Empire State at 6.7 million people and 80% of New York City’s 8.4 million. Yet the Hoosier State generated more handle in April at $236.4 million than New York has total since launch, becoming a respected and quickly maturing market that leveraged remote registration for mobile access and multiple skins for casinos.
The Garden State flexes on New York
New Jersey is on its way to overtaking Nevada as the sports betting capital of the U.S., though New York and others could challenge them in the coming years.
Also, how about that Pennsylvania tax rate?! pic.twitter.com/I6zjgzbg9h
— Kendall Baker (@TheKendallBaker) May 17, 2021
Industry analysts approximate 20% of New Jersey‘s U.S.-leading monthly handle originates from New Yorkers willing to cross the Hudson River from Manhattan to make wagers on their smartphones or show up to bet in person at the New Meadowlands complex. Obtaining New York’s existing monthly handle figures reveals just how vital keeping people on the Manhattan side of the river is to the Empire State’s hopes for generating tax revenue via sports betting.
Since New York began accepting bets in July 2019, New Jersey has generated more than $11.9 billion in handle — over 183 times New York’s total in that span. The Garden State has generated a higher monthly handle than New York’s all-time total of $231.1 million in every month not counting those affected by COVID-19 since totaling $183.9 million in September 2018.
Using the 20% estimate for this year’s handle, New Yorkers are wagering $165.5 million per month on the other side of the Hudson. It would take them approximately six weeks to exceed the handle generated by the four retail sportsbooks in nearly two years.
That $165.5 million in monthly handle — which comes to just shy of $2 billion for 12 months — also looks far more enticing considering New York’s overall hold since launch is 11.44%, well above the 7% industry norm and a percentage usually reserved for sports betting in lottery-run states. Granted, that elevated win rate is practically impossible to sustain when adding the higher volume of bets and handle that come with mobile wagering, but let’s dream a little dream for the Empire State.
Using New Jersey’s hold of 7.39% through the first four months of 2021, the operator revenue generated is more than $12.2 million each month. Breaking down that revenue figure further in terms of mobile handle as a percentage of overall handle (91.78%) and applying the respective tax rates on those revenue types, those wagers exclusively create approximately $1.09 million in tax revenue per month.
Stunningly, New York’s hold to date in 2021 is 12.13%, higher than the overall win rate. When applying New York’s 2021 win rate to the $165.5 million, operators generate nearly $20.1 million in revenue each month. Even with a modest 10% tax rate on adjusted gross revenue, Cuomo’s coffers would fill to the tune of $2 million per month.
Look, $24 million per year is nowhere near the promises of $500 million in a fully mature market. But it is a start on the path — one that can be altered via tax rates and one that will be altered with mobile betting.
Low handle ≠ low revenue
That 11.44% overall hold from the state’s four sportsbooks completely wrecked internal estimates for New York’s handle because there was no accounting for a near-65% deviation from the industry standard for a prolonged period of time. Yes, retail wagering usually skews higher for hold, but the highest monthly national average hold recorded in the post-PASPA era was 11.71% in September 2018 — and it is the only month out of 35 it reached even 10%.
Because that national average hold rarely strayed far from 7% from January 2020 to April 2021 — the highest in that stretch was 8.62% last November — the reverse-engineering math when using the national average hold suggested it required more handle to generate New York’s $26.4 million in revenue since launch. Thus, the internal estimate of New York’s cumulative handle through April was $358.6 million, 55.1% higher than the actual handle of $231.1 million.
|Date||Rivers Handle||Rivers Revenue||Rivers Hold||Tioga Handle||Tioga Revenue||Tioga Hold||del Lago Handle||del Lago Revenue||del Lago Hold||Resorts World Handle||Resorts World Revenue||Resorts World Hold|
|Jul-19||$1,184,162||$294,249||24.85%||$181,308||$55,219||30.46%||Not Operating||Not Operating||N/A||Not Operating||Not Operating||N/A|
|*Casinos closed due to COVID-19|
But the disclosure of the handle also revealed New York’s four sportsbooks are performing very well in terms of revenue generated relative to amount bet. Rivers Casino & Resort, which boasts the leading book in the state with nearly $95.8 million in handle and almost $11.4 million in revenue, has produced a double-digit hold in seven of eight months since reopening following the pandemic. It also accounts for four of the five instances a book reached $1 million in monthly revenue.
Del Lago Casino, which has the other $1 million revenue month, also has had a hold of 10% or higher in seven of the last eight months, and its worst in that span was 9.24% in February. Del Lago also has the highest overall hold at 12.79%.
Though Resorts World in the Catskills has not been put in the corner with more than $3.7 million in revenue, it is the only one of the four books with an overall single-digit hold at 8.2%. Tioga Downs rounds out the quartet in terms of handle ($20.3 million) and revenue ($2.4 million), but its 11.93% hold edges out Rivers (11.88%) for second.
A time for others to gloat
Learning New York’s sports betting handle figures likely does little in terms of altering what the finished product will be if the state does indeed begin accepting mobile wagers by the Super Bowl. Cuomo could use the less-than-stellar numbers to promote the need for mobile wagering, while state legislators can continue to clamor for more mobile operators to the same end.
There is, however, the element of schadenfreude in New York ranking in the bottom quarter of states for sports betting handle. For all the grief New Jersey gets from its neighbor in general, Garden State dwellers can throw it back with interest here.
Amid the cornstalks of Iowa — which launched one month after New York — the Hawkeye State has generated five times the handle of those East Coast sophisticates. Illinois has generated more handle from parlays the last three months than New York has overall. Oregon’s monthly handle has outpaced New York’s best month for nine months running. The same is true in New Hampshire, which is a DraftKings monopoly.
The same goes for Rhode Island, which has exactly two retail sportsbooks and a single mobile app. Digital-only Virginia had more handle in its first full month than New York’s four casinos produced in 17.
While all these points may elicit a chuckle or an eye roll, the other truth is New York still has a clear path to the top of the sports betting mountain when mobile arrives. It’s just going to be starting out further behind neighboring New Jersey than was previously thought.
Photo by Songquan Deng / Shutterstock