William Hill Invests Millions in Legal US Sports Betting

Saturday, May 12th, 2018 | Written by April Bergman
William Hill Invests Millions in Legal US Sports Betting

Philip Bowcock, CEO of William Hill plc, said in a conference call discussing company earnings that William Hill had spent “‘mid-to-high single-digit’ millions of dollars” preparing for legalized sports betting in the United States. William Hill’s investments anticipate the success of New Jersey’s sports betting challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court — a court decision which could be announced any day.

William Hill USA was at the center of New Jersey’s sports betting challenge in the first place. In October 2014, William Hill partnered with Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, New Jersey on a land-based sportsbook. The two planned to convert William Hill’s sports bar on the Monmouth Park complex into a sportsbook.

To block the opening of a Monmouth Park sportsbook, four major US professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) and the organizer of college sports (NCAA) sued the State of New Jersey, Monmouth Park, and William Hill USA. That case, first known as Christie v. NCAA and now Murphy v. NCAA (after the New Jersey governors of the time), is the case at the center of a challenge to the PASPA federal ban on sports betting.

Thus, William Hill plc and Philip Bowcock are in a position to know the latest on Murphy v. NCAA. Bowcock is bullish on US legalized sports betting. In fact, William Hill’s CEO said in this week’s conference call that a decision in favor of legal US sportsbooks would cause William Hill to focus primarily on the United States.

Delaware Sports Betting Legalization

According to Legal Sports Report, Bowcock said Delaware quickly would legalize sports gambling. He was quote saying, “Where we stand at the moment, we know that Delaware will go almost immediately because that is sort of quasi-type sports betting at the moment. They take parlays, which in our parlance are accumulators. So that’s quite an easy move.”

Delaware, along with Montana and Oregon, have legal sports lotteries — a kind of parlay bet that allows players to wager on several sporting events at once. Las Vegas has fully legal sports betting through a land-based sportsbook, while 46 other US states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are banned from opening sportsbooks in their casinos under US federal law.

East Coast Sportsbooks

William Hill likely would focus on Delaware first, because it is small and surrounded by population centers. Interested sports bettors could drive a relatively short distance from Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington D.C. to place a sports bet. Oregon and Montana are located in the west, where the distance between population centers is greater.

Philip Bowcock explained to William Hill shareholders the next states to follow the lead of Delaware, “Clearly, New Jersey will go very soon afterwards and the likes of Mississippi and West Virginia will likely go quite quickly at the moment as well.”

Which States Will Legalize Sportsbooks?

As many as 18 US states have discussed sportsbook legalization laws contingent on the US Supreme Court decision. New York state, Michigan, Louisiana, and Connecticut have had serious discussions and might follow New Jersey’s lead fairly quickly. In short order, as many as a dozen US states could have legal sports betting.

The company CEO described to major investors — many of whom are based in the UK or continental Europe — the unique challenges of sports betting infrastructure to the United States. While many US residents might understand the sheer size of the country or even the patchwork state laws derived from the federal system, William Hill investors living outside the USA might not.

William Hill Tech Investment

William Hill’s tech support for geolocation issues or state law inquiries have to be keyed on a state-by-state basis. Bowcock explained, “Each state is like a different country, so it’s going to have almost its own technology. Because the regulations will be different in each state, we’ll likely have to have a call center in each state as well for customer services. We’re looking at how that would set up.”

William Hill USA is already a major player in the Nevada sports betting industry. William Hill runs 108 sportsbooks or betting shops throughout Nevada. Last year, the company had 45% growth in its Nevada sports wagering business.

Baker Mayfield Bet Fiasco

The company has had some adjustments. American sports bettors are focused on an entirely different set of sporting events than European or Asia sports bettors. Three NFL Draft proposition bets offered by William Hill USA did not pay correctly, until NFL sports bettors began to complain to the Nevada Gaming Commission. It took 3 days for the gamblers to receive their payouts, which can lead to customer disgruntlement.

Despite the kinks, William Hill USA stands on the precipice of becoming the most important division of the company — if the US Supreme Court complies. If so, nearly 5 years of preparation and investment could pay huge dividends.