Little is certain in the world these days, and in the very large category of the many loose ends in the coronavirus pandemic era is the question of what will become of sports gambling in Maryland.
Just before the Maryland General Assembly suspended its annual business in Annapolis ahead of schedule to comply with the common sense recommendation to avoid group situations, it passed a bare bones version of a sports gambling bill in order to keep a spot on the November ballot for a referendum question on sports wagering for the voters to decide.
Should the world return to a semblance of normalcy, and sports along with it, and if sports wagering becomes legal in Maryland, a corporate name that will become more familiar with local bettors is that of William Hill. With headquarters in London and Leeds in England, the longtime company has international bricks-and-mortar and digital sports wagering operations. In the U.S., William Hill operates 114 race and sports books in Nevada and has operations in New Jersey as well as several other states.
William Hill’s New Jersey sports books include Monmouth Park, a thoroughbred racetrack in Oceanport, and the Ocean Resort Casino and the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City.
Assuming the dominoes fall in an expected way — and understanding that there’s no sure thing at the moment — William Hill is likely to have the sports book at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino. Caesars Entertainment, which currently owns the Horseshoe, is being bought by Eldorado Resorts, a Nevada company. Eldorado has a partnership with William Hill for Hill to run its sports books. However, the Eldorado-Caesars deal hasn’t closed yet.
Again, if the dominoes fall in the expected way …
“We’ve got to get through this public health emergency,” said Joe Asher, William Hill CEO for the U.S., in a recent telephone interview. “[The sports wagering question] has to get on the ballot. It’s got to pass. And then we have to go through the whole regulatory process”
“But it’ll happen,” Asher added. “We’ll get there, we’ll get there. I’ve been fond of saying of late that the end of the world happens only once, and this isn’t it. We’ll get through this.”
The Horseshoe won’t be William Hill’s only presence in the greater Maryland-Washington region.
William Hill may also be running the sports book operation at Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Allegany County. Hill is aligned with Golden Entertainment, a Nevada-based gaming company that owns Rocky Gap.
And perhaps more significantly, Hill has partnered with Monumental Sports and Entertainment to put a sports book at the Capital One Arena, home of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
Ted Leonsis — owner of the Caps, the Wizards and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, plus the Capital One Arena — has been bullish on the synergy between wagering and sports.
“It’s a deal we’re real excited about obviously,” Asher said of the Capital One sports book. “Ted is one of the leaders in sports and other industries as well. As a matter of fact, the last trip I took before anybody stopped traveling was to D.C., and I had a meeting at Capital One with Ted and his team.”
Demolition work has already started for the sports book, Asher said.
“We’re excited about it,” Asher said. “It’s going to be a marquee venue. The location is fantastic, right between the White House and the Capitol at one of the busiest Metro stations in the network, probably one of the busiest subway stops in the country.”
The sports book will also offer dining.
“We’re focused on making this a really compelling place for people to come and enjoy even when there aren’t games at Capital One,” Asher said. “We want people coming in on the weekends off-season to watch college and pro football. I’d love it to be the place where, if you’re a Redskins fan, you’d go when the Redskins are out of town.”
Asher is personally enthused about bringing William Hill to the greater Maryland region.
“Maryland is always at the top of my mind, maybe because I’m from Delaware,” he said. Asher grew up in Wilmington, graduated from the University of Delaware and even lived for a short time in Maryland as a child.
At the moment, William Hill, like all companies in the gaming industry, is going through tough times. Casinos and tracks where the company has sports books are all closed. And even online operations are mostly quiet. No sports means no business.
To assist William Hill employees who are out of work, Asher is donating his salary until sports resume and is encouraging others who are still working to help as well.
In the meantime, William Hill is trying to come up with wagering propositions that may attract some betting money. Soccer from Belarus, basketball from Taiwan and even eNASCAR, where famous drivers race each other in video simulations, have found their way onto the betting board.
Other sports books have offered betting on table tennis from the Ukraine and Australian Rules Football.
One of Asher’s enduring loves is horse racing. One of his first jobs was at Brandywine Raceway, a harness track just south of Pennsylvania-Delaware border. He enjoys family vacations at Del Mar, Calif., and the races at the thoroughbred track there. He even has a couple of racehorses that are stabled in Maryland.
Not surprisingly, he has an affection for Baltimore’s Preakness Stakes.
“In Maryland, the Preakness is such a signature event in the state,” he said. “I’ve been there many times but clearly something has to be done that’s more appropriate for the modern day. Pimlico is obviously a very old facility and not where it needs to be [in terms of condition]. How exactly that all works out, I’m not close enough to it … but the fundamental principle of keeping the Preakness in Maryland is important.”
Of great concern to Asher regarding horse racing are the drug allegations that resulted in 27 people being federally indicted in March for various roles in manufacturing, distributing and administering performance enhancing drugs to racehorses.
“The drug situation in horses is so significant and it has to be addressed or, over time, the sport may simply disappear,” Asher said. “I’m not an alarmist but it’s a massive problem in the industry.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of William Hill