When the deal was struck to sell William Hill to Caesars Entertainment last year, Joe Asher, the president of William Hill US—the part of William Hill that Caesars really wanted—had to find another job. It happened sooner than expected as Asher accepted a position with IGT to lead the company’s sports betting division. A pioneer in U.S. sports betting, Asher rose from a humble beginning in the Delaware horse racing business to experience the full roller coaster that was the legalization of sports betting in the U.S. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the IGT headquarters in Las Vegas in February. (See Video Below)
GGB: You had just completed the massive deal selling William Hill to Caesars when you got another job. What really attracted you to IGT to become president of the sports betting?
Joe Asher: After the Caesars deal closed, I had no idea what I was going to do next, other than being dead set on taking the summer off and going to Del Mar (racetrack in Southern California), which was great. I got a call from Enrico Drago, who’s now my boss. I’d been friendly with Enrico because William Hill and IGT had partnered to win the sports betting contract for the Rhode Island Lottery. He called me over the summer, and my attitude at that time was listen to everything, commit to nothing. I told him to call back after the summer when the kids are back in school. So on the first day the kids go off to school, it’s quiet in the house. It’s 9 o’clock, what am I going to do? Right then, Enrico called me. He had remembered that was the first day of school. So we started a discussion that eventually morphed into a full-time job and started October 1.
IGT obviously has a great reputation in the industry. Is the PlaySports program what sets it apart from your competitors?
To set the foundation, it has all the hardware and software you need to operate a sportsbook. You have two choices when setting up a sports betting operation. If you’re a big enough operator, you can own your own technology, but that comes with great cost. If you’re not, or you don’t want to own your own technology because of the cost, you can use third-party technology. And an IGT is an obvious place for a lot of people to look because they’re already using IGT products today. The customer base is a mix of pure online sports betting companies, like FanDuel, and big companies and organizations like the Rhode Island Lottery or casino operators like Boyd Gaming or Resorts World in Las Vegas.
Then all these tribes across the country that got the right to offer sports betting under their compacts are obviously familiar with IGT. The technology is very modular so it facilitates integrations quite easily. And once you learn how to use it, it’s fairly straightforward.
How many more states do you expect to legalize sports betting?
My prediction is that sports betting will be legal in all 50 states. I know people say, “Oh, it’ll never happen in Utah,” but I truly think it will be all 50 states. I’m not going to give you a date, but the public clearly likes to bet on sports. The leagues have embraced it firmly. Through advertising, the knowledge of its availability is quite apparent to everyone. They’re having record ratings for the NFL playoffs. Yes, the games have been great, so people stay engaged, but the tuning in to begin with is some aspect of that because they can now bet on it.
There are so many sports betting operators with market share in single digits. Consolidation is coming at some point, so when is that going to really start?
It started a little bit last year with Penn buying theScore, and DraftKings buying Golden Nugget Online. As consolidation continues, there’s going to be a handful of major operators who have the ability to compete. There will be niche opportunities for others in particular regions and particular markets. Some of them will throw in the towel or be acquired for less than they’ve invested. I think that’s inevitable.
What do you think is going be the big accelerator of revenue growth in sports betting? How much will in-play betting contribute to that?
In-play betting has always been an important and growing part of the business. But what people principally are betting in play, by the way, is on the outcome of the game, not on whether the next play is going to be a run or a pass. That’s very granular, frankly. It’s disruptive to the viewing experience.
I think video streaming integrated into the sports betting app is clearly one area where the business is going to grow. So if I’m watching a game on my phone, the betting options will be overlaid on the video.
Personalization is another area where I think we’re not anywhere close to where it ought to be. For example, I like to bet the under on the Golden Knights hockey game. So if I log in a half hour before puck drop, the first betting option I see should be that, to make it more efficient.
You mentioned some of your clients—FanDuel, Rhode Island Lottery and others. How do you scale what you offer to these big clients so smaller clients can also afford it?
It’s a function of trying to keep the infrastructure costs relatively low so we can offer something directly for that customer on a cost-efficient basis. Folks realize that sports betting brings people into the property. There’s no doubt about it. And then once you get them into the property, you have a shot to get them to do something else, whether it’s play the tables or slots, eat at a restaurant or go to the spa. I’ve said this before. I think sports betting is the single greatest customer acquisition tool in the history of the casino industry.