SCHENECTADY — Thirty weeks after the start of sports betting at Rivers Casino & Resort, it is exceeding poker as a revenue source.
But it is a really volatile source of revenue.
Pro football gambling has proved to be the biggest draw for bettors so far at the Rivers Sports Book, and not surprisingly the postseason was huge. Since mid-January, Rivers had its best week ever for sports gaming revenue, then nearly doubled it two weeks later. It also had its worst week ever, then lost nearly twice as much two weeks later.
New York’s three other non-Indian casinos, which all offer sports betting, saw nearly the same pattern in January and early February: Great week, terrible week, even better week, even worse week.
Rivers General Manager Justin Moore explained that a relatively small number of pro sports contests are drawing most of the betting action. So when a favored team fails to beat the point spread, or an underdog wins, it produces an outsized boost or drag on the Sport’s Book’s revenue stream.
By comparison, there are thousands of slot machine plays and roulette wheel spins every day at the casino, and for those revenue streams, “the math will kind of settle into normalized percentages,” Moore said.
More or fewer people will play the slots in a given week, but they’ll take home a fairly steady percentage of what they play. More or fewer people will bet on sporting events in a given week, and their winnings are impossible to predict.
That said, sports betting has become a valued revenue stream for Rivers. The casino has seen $4.05 million of gross gambling revenue (GGR, the money lost by gamblers) in 30 weeks. In the same period, poker has yielded $2.92 million in GGR, table games $23.97 million and slot machines $70.0 million.
“The best week ever was the Ravens losing to the Titans,” Moore said about sports betting in January. “Who would have thought that would happen?
“No one had that ... then the unthinkable happened. And casinos had their best weekend.”
Moore said the most memorable example of his career was the Giants squeaking out a Super Bowl win over the Patriots after New England went undefeated in their regular season. The Giants were such underdogs that many people had bet on them just as a whim.
“We called that the Super Bowl Stimulus Package,” he said. “The sports books were annihilated. It destroyed the GGR for the entire season that month.”
This year's Super Bowl teams were so evenly matched in the pregame oddsmaking that there were a lot of winning bets.
Rivers had $810,973 in Sports Book GGR the week ending Feb. 2 and lost $776,676 the week ending Feb. 9. The Super Bowl ended very late the evening Feb. 2; payouts collected after midnight would have been tallied in the next week.
“We got torched that week,” Moore said.
It’s not just the championship games that make a difference. In the wake of the NFL postseason, Rivers has seen one regular-season NBA game after another that went in favor of betters. And each of those games has attracted a lot of bets.
If 20 people were crowded around a roulette wheel and 18 of them bet on No. 5, that would just be weird, Moore said.
“But that’s what happens in the Sports Book.”
Sports betting has long been a huge illegal industry. It became legal in New York state after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a New Jersey case triggered a clause in New York law. The first legal sports bet in this state was cast at Rivers on July 16, 2019.
Moore provided some details about the how the Sports Book at Rivers Casino has fared since then:
- NFL football was a huge revenue source.
- NBA basketball has taken its place; Lakers games are drawing the most bets.
- A handful of marquee matchups or primetime televised games draw most of the betting action in any given sport.
- Regional loyalty is seen most in betting on baseball (Mets, Red Sox, Yankees), less in football (Bills, Giants, Jets) and minimally in basketball (Knicks, Nets).
- Rivers doesn’t disclose total number of sports bets cast and percentage profit, but it has been happy with both.
- Sports bets are cast by men more often by women, just as men are the more frequent casino guests, but the average age is noticeably lower in the Sports Book, roughly 30 to 40 years old compared with 40 to 50 in the rest of the casino.
- The next big thing at the Sports Book is likely to be March Madness, the college basketball championships.
One other detail worth noting: Rivers is making more money from its Sports Book than the other three casinos are. It saw $4.05 million in GGR in its first 30 weeks vs. $2.75 million at del Lago Resort and Casino, $1.67 million at Resorts World Catskills and $695,270 at Tioga Downs in the 25 to 30 weeks those facilities have offered sports betting.
Moore said this is due to Rivers operating in a region with a larger population than the others, and marketing itself as a casino for area residents rather than as a destination for out-of-town gamblers. Sports betting, he said, is not a destination activity.
Moore said sports betting is a welcome if not huge source of revenue, and is a way to expand the casino’s business.
“It’s another microbusiness within our business, another amenity with a whole new demographic.”