Live! Casino’s Rob Norton on Maryland Sports Betting, FanDuel Partnership & Super Bowl

Live! Casino’s Rob Norton on Maryland Sports Betting, FanDuel Partnership & Super Bowl
By Bill Ordine

The Live! Casino and Hotel in Hanover, Maryland, built a multi-million-dollar venue called Sports and Social as a sports bar and restaurant months before the casino was licensed to operate a sportsbook.

Once Live! got the greenlight from the state in December, it was a simple conversion to the sportsbook where FanDuel Maryland is the casino’s partner.

Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group and Live! Casino, discussed the property’s retail sportsbook experience so far and what lies ahead as Maryland sports betting moves toward online.

BetMaryland: Live! Casino & Hotel opened its sportsbook in December. What are your observations in the early going?

Rob Norton: I've noticed a couple of things. For one, we've had a decent flow of customers through the facility and materially they are new customer to us. There's probably about 50-50 split, roughly, between new customers and existing customers that are taking advantage of the new betting option. And we've seen a steady increase as we opened up in mid-December and we have been taking wagers through the NFL playoff run and we've seen a steady increase in the customer count. The energy, the excitement around it, the response to our book, the Sports and Social venue with the FanDuel Lounge has been received incredibly well. And we're very, very pleased with how we've come out of the gate and what we're seeing.

Super Bowl Plans at Live!

BetMaryland: The Super Bowl is coming up Feb. 13. What are your plans?

RN: We are actually going to have a couple of different marquee type of events for the Super Bowl here at Live! So, Sports and Social, which is the ultimate fan viewing experience, will operate and have specials for the Super Bowl. But we're also going to convert “The HALL” (events center) into a viewing experience. We've done that in past years. And we're working with the state right now to ensure that we're able to take sports wagers in The HALL while we're having the viewing party. The HALL is an extravagant entertainment complex that seats up to 4,500 people but we'll have it configured appropriately for this particular event. It has massive LED screens and incredible sound systems and we have the ability to have a great food and beverage experience with that.

So, we'll have not only our sportsbook at Sports and Social which will house 300, 400 people, we will also have the ability to house up to a thousand people or more within The HALL. It's really a one-stop shop for the Super Bowl here.

BetMaryland: It sounds very much like what happens in some Las Vegas casinos.

RN: What we do differently, I think, than even Vegas, is that we actually have created an entertainment experience within the book. So, if you're a serious punter, we've got the best sports betting partner in town, in the country, that’s FanDuel.

But if you're more of a social player, meaning you're here really to watch and be entertained by the sport but you want to make a couple of wagers to make it a little bit more exciting, we’ve created an entertainment experience. Our goal is to make it as exciting as it can be. For those who can't make it to the stadium, this is the next closest thing.

BetMaryland: Sports wagering has been a much-anticipated event in Maryland. What has been the customer feedback?

RN: I live and work right here in and around the Live! Casino & Hotel property. And I have a bunch of friends, peers that have been coming down to the casino since sports betting and some of them had never really come down before that. They were just waiting for sports betting.

It's been a nice affirmative response to our plans — their feedback on the entire experience, the quality of the food, the quality of the drink, the amazing viewing, the way the social games interact with the space, the way that we create the stadium energy with our DJ and our sound systems and all of that and how it kind of plays into the experience. I keep getting the “Wow!” response from folks. Literally, I get one a word text, “Wow!” And that's awesome to hear from folks because we work hard at trying to create those environments.

When Will Online Sports Betting Start?

BetMaryland: Concerning online sports betting, I know that the question you’re getting is when will it start. What's your best estimate?

RN: I guess the best way for me to answer that is to say that when we're dealing with things like this, I just don't take those bets. I don't guess on this.

There are a lot of steps that have to occur still, there's still no rules or procedures around how the commissions are going to review the applications, how they're going to award the licenses, how they're going to determine what are the qualifying parameters for the applications. There's still a lot of discussion around the (disparity) study.

There are so many unknowns in the process. And the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Agency still has to promulgate rules. So, there are plenty of obstacles that need to be navigated at this point before online occurs. I'm fairly confident that that process will take some time.

In the meantime, we're going to focus on providing an incredible in-person experience. And when the state is ready to offer online, we are ready to go. Again, we have the premier partner in FanDuel that we will be offering our online book through, and we've partnered with them before and we're highly confident that we'll be ready to go as soon as the state is ready to go.

BetMaryland: Whenever all the hurdles are cleared, what do you imagine your website and app would look like? Will it be a FanDuel-Live! co-branded?

RN: Yes, we've been consistent. FanDuel is the sports betting brand and so they will be a prominent part of how we present our digital presence to our customers. Now, Live! in Maryland is also a dominant brand and so the co-branded approach is where we're heading.

I think the really important part of the plan, though, is that we are moving forward with an integration toward the bricks-and-mortar facility as well. So, as you're betting and playing online, it's our full intention to build a rewards system structure that recognizes your mobile betting play online with FanDuel. As a Live! customer, you'll be earning comps rewards and tier status through that play. Again, our goal is to try to create an entertainment experience that transcends just a transactional wager that you can make on your phone.

How Much Money Will Online Bring In?

BetMaryland: It’s always been clear that while there is money to made in retail sports betting, the wagering handle — and potentially, the revenue — is much greater in online betting. Could you reflect on the potential for online sports betting revenue in Maryland?

RN: I'm going to stay away from specific projections, but I definitely will reiterate your position and your statement that that has been the case just about everywhere where mobile betting has co-existed with retail betting. In the best-case scenarios for retail, they've been able to acquire roughly 20% market share but often they're in the 10% market share range for the total betting within the state. And I don't really see any rationale that Maryland will be materially different than that. I do think because of the quality of the retail assets located at the casino and the structure of the law here in Maryland that we'll see probably 75%, 80% mobile versus some of the markets that are higher than that.

And what that means to me is that there's still going to be a nice, healthy business for the retail books. And it's going to be incumbent on us to create a reason for people to come in for the experience. It returns me to the philosophy that our approach is driving an entertainment experience versus a transactional experience because if you're just looking for a transaction, it's much easier to do it on your phone. I fully expect that we will have people in the facility who are also bettors on the mobile or online, but they're going to come down for the games where they want to engage a higher-level entertainment experience.

BetMaryland: Clearly, you see your customers enjoying the retail sportsbook and the online product simultaneously.

RN: Our goal is to help people move between the digital and the retail by creating a best-in-brand on both sides of the equation and elevating their complete experience and making it seamless for them to go back and forth. And depending upon how the regulations finalize, it's possible that people in the facility could be making in-game bets through their phone while making full game bets or parlays at the windows. So, a hybrid approach is a possibility depending on the final regulations.

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A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.

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