The nascent US sports betting industry has mostly been a civil affair in public among gambling operators over the first year of its expansion outside of Nevada.
But a little bit of the tension that exists as everyone competes for a slice of an ever-growing pie was on display Thursday at the American Gaming Association’s Sports Betting Executive Summit.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins and William Hill US CEO Joe Asher got into it during what was likely envisioned as a rather calm panel. But things got a little heated on stage.
At one point, Robins said, “That’s the problem with the industry, people like you,” while pointing at Asher.
Rival sports betting companies
In one corner, there’s Will Hill. Asher represents a company with a big footprint in the UK and Nevada. William Hill also has been aggressive in securing sports betting partnerships and is in some states the only active operator. It’s in seven of the eight states that have legal sports wagering.
In the other, there’s DraftKings. The daily fantasy sports turned sports betting operator has been a market leader in New Jersey and has a small presence in Mississippi. It has big plans for sports gambling beyond that with its DraftKings Sportsbook brand.
The two companies are clearly going to be rivals as sports betting shakes out across the US. There’s also a history of bad blood between them.
Asher has always referred to DFS as a form of gambling, dating back to 2015 when Nevada declared that DraftKings and FanDuel needed a license to conduct contests in the state. DraftKings has not served Nevada as a DFS operator since then.
The bad blood between Robins and Asher can also be traced to a hearing in which DFS operators hoped to find a way back into Nevada. No compromise was found then, and it came up in the following heated exchange.
What the two sports betting CEOs said
Here’s a partial transcript of some of their exchange:
Robins: I agree with (MGM Resorts CEO) Jim Murren on creating a good environment means not trying to restrict competitors. Part of what’s caused a lack of innovation, lack of opportunity, in the gaming industry has been in-fighting. …
Robins: You asked me about Nevada, I said it was a tricky state it’d because of guys like Joe running around telling people that we’re bad and need to be shut out.
Asher: I never said that.
Robins: Well you testified about it in Nevada.
Asher: I said it was gambling, DFS was gambling.
Robins: Either way 19 other states are for it. The point is, Joe, that’s not really your motivation. Your motivation is you don’t want us to compete with you. Which is totally understandable. I get it, you’re not able to keep up with us. That’s the problem with the industry, people like you. (Points to Joe)
There’s also this exchange where the two CEOs are talking over each other:
Quite the tiff between @WilliamHillUS and @DraftKings at @AmerGamingAssn sports betting conference. Not even @darrenrovell’s fault this time! pic.twitter.com/yVXCJXeJlo
— Hilary Russ (@HilaryRuss) March 28, 2019
The sports betting in-fighting will continue
The tension on display above belies everyone playing nice publicly in the sports betting realm. While the stakes are high, the immediate opportunity is still small until more states approve sports betting, and until mobile wagering is available more broadly.
But that’s going to change quickly as more states legalize sports gambling. The gap between winners and losers could accelerate.
DraftKings and FanDuel comprise more than two-thirds of the NJ sports betting market. Companies like William Hill — as well as some existing casino companies — are likely less than thrilled at the prospect of that happening in other states.
(The dynamic was even on display in an Illinois legislative hearing this morning as well, as some people were advocating for keeping the likes of DK and FD throttled in their potential market.)
The sports betting industry isn’t just DraftKings vs. William Hill. And in the end, the gaming industry should be working together to get good laws passed, instead of fighting each other, at least in the early days. And that has been happening, to some extend.
But if the claws continue to come out, who knows what the future holds for US sports betting.
Nick Garcia contributed to this report.
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