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Circa Sports Is Becoming A Major Player But Can They Revive Nevada’s Sports Betting Scene?

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Derek Stevens is set to open the Circa Resort & Casino which is first new ‘ground up’ property built in downtown Las Vegas in forty years.
  • The sportsbook at the Circa Resort & Casino will rival the Westgate Superbook for the title of ‘biggest in the world’.
  • Circa Sports was launched in 2019 and has quickly become a favorite of ‘sharp’ players in both Nevada and Colorado.

This is Part 1 in a two part series examining the growing influence of Circa Sports and their potential impact on the Nevada sports betting scene.

Derek Stevens has become one of the most visible boosters of Las Vegas over the past few years. His stature will only grow once the Circa Resort & Casino opens on October 28. Although he’s best known as a casino owner–he already owns the the D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate–Stevens’ ‘side hustle’ is also becoming extremely influential. Stevens is a lifelong and enthusiastic sports bettor and in 2019 he shook up the stagnant Nevada sports betting industry when he opened Circa Sports.

Circa Sports now operates the retail sportsbook at the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate but that’s nothing compared to the sportsbook at the new property. Not only will it be an impressive flagship for the growing brand but is challenging the Westgate Superbook across town for the title of ‘biggest sportsbook in the world’. Circa will establish their first retail presence outside of the downtown casino corridor when they take over the operation of the sportsbook at the Tuscany Suites & Casino located at 255 East Flamingo Road right between the Las Vegas Strip and the UNLV campus.

Circa quickly earned a lot of respect among the Las Vegas sports betting community and their mobile app has become a favorite of ‘sharp bettors’ and recreational players alike. Earlier this year, they expanded their brand 750 miles East of the Silver State when they launched a mobile app in the red hot Colorado market. It wasn’t long before the Rocky Mountain State became a new front in their ‘friendly rivalry’ with the Westgate Superbook–Colorado became the site of their first presence outside of Nevada when their mobile app launched earlier this month.

Circa is also challenging the Westgate on the handicapping contest front and after some recent changes in Colorado gaming regulations both companies will be able to offer their prestigious handicapping competitions there as well. Colorado sports betting went live on May 1 during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result the retail component has lagged behind the mobile component to a significant degree. Retail sportsbooks are starting to pop up at gaming properties throughout the state and both Circa and Superbook will likely open locations in the next year.

CAN CIRCA REVIVE THE MORIBUND NEVADA SPORTS BETTING SCENE?

Flashy retail sportsbooks and megabuck contests are great but where Circa Sports’ influence has been felt most strongly is in their approach toward ‘sharp’ bettors. They welcome their action–in fact, they do everything they can to attract it. That’s a welcome and significant change from the status quo and has done as much as anything in the past decade to drag the Nevada sports betting ecosystem into the 21st century.

At one point, Las Vegas was the undisputed ‘gaming capital of the world’ and that included sports betting. In the second half of the 20th century a variety of sportsbooks were able to lay claim to being the epicenter of the bookmaking universe. From Jimmy the Greek at the Las Vegas Sports and Turf Club, Bill Dark at the Del Mar, Bob Martin at the Churchill Downs Sports Book, Sonny Reizner at The Castaways, Gene Mayday at Little Caesars, John Quinn at the Union Plaza and Jackie Gaughan at the El Cortez to Bob Scucci and Joe Lupo at the Stardust, Johnny Avello at the Wynn (and now DraftKings) and Jay Kornegay at the Westgate Superbook there was no doubt that Nevada was the gold standard in sports betting.

Unfortunately, that began to change a few decades back. For a long time it looked as if Las Vegas would forever have a monopoly on retail sports betting in the United States and it hurt the city’s status as the ‘sports betting capital’ of the country, let alone the world. Aside from a few exceptions, innovation became a dirty word, competition became an even dirtier word and the betting industry in the Silver State started to wallow in mediocrity. The nadir was likely the campaign by the Nevada Resort Association and the legacy casinos to kill betting kiosks in the early 2010s. They let the state legislature take care of the kiosks run by William Hill and Leroy’s and although the money that the off site betting terminals generated were only in the hundreds of thousands of dollars they wanted to make sure to stifle the innovation before it got off the ground.

There was a point where Las Vegas and the state of Nevada could have been *the* financial center of the world gaming industry. Instead, the legacy players were too worried about protecting their piece of a ‘small pie’ instead of growing the market exponentially. They sat on their hands as betting boomed in the UK and essentially let offshore books take over the de facto locus of power in the industry without a fight. The world changed when the US Supreme Court overturned PASPA but even then Nevada evidenced little concern. COVID-19 further altered the conventions of the gaming industry and in many ways such pandemic trends as a greater emphasis on mobile betting and a wider interest in non-traditional sports are likely here to stay.

Although sports betting revenues are back to a decent level with major sports back in business, Nevada is lagging behind several other states in mobile betting–the biggest growth area of the sports betting industry. After William Hill took over the operation of sportsbooks formerly run by CG Technologies and Caesars Entertainment and Treasure Island inexplicably killed off their mobile app Las Vegas sports bettors had access to nine independent mobile apps (B Connected (Boyd Gaming), BetMGM, Circa Sports, Golden Nugget, South Point, Station Casinos, Westgate, William Hill and Wynn). If you didn’t mind a trip to Reno you could also bet with the Atlantis app making 10 mobile ‘outs’ in the Silver State. That’s roughly the same number of mobile ‘outs’ as Indiana (9) and Pennsylvania (7) and well behind the number of apps available in New Jersey (16) and Colorado (16 with more on the way).

Colorado could be the biggest threat to Nevada’s abdicated crown as the center of the US sports betting ecosystem. Colorado has a significant (and growing) numerical advantage in mobile betting options. There’s no comparison in the variety of ‘outs’ available in Nevada and Colorado. Already available in Colorado: the ‘new breed’ of US sports betting (DraftKings, FoxBet, BetRivers, Fan Duel), European sportsbooks new to the US market (Smarkets, Betfred Sports), a couple of ‘in house’ offerings (BetWildwood, BetMonarch) a tribal run sportsbook (Sky Ute), and an eclectic range of brands from Iowa (Elite Gaming), Malta (Carousel) and Canada (theScore Bet). Also available in Colorado are Circa Sports, Superbook, BetMGM and William Hill. Set to launch soon are Australia’s PointsBet and yet another Nevada ‘out’, Wynn Sports.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this report on Circa Sports as we turn our attention to their ‘bettor friendly’ philosophy and how it could potentially benefit sports betting in the Silver State.

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