Eldorado Resorts, owner of 26 casinos, is buying Caesars Entertainment for $8.6 billion in cash and stock, plus assumption of Caesars’ debt, in a deal that will create the largest casino company in America, headquartered in Reno.
Those who have closely watched the rapid progress of sports betting legalization and the resulting deals between sports leagues and casinos might have thought that Caesars’ deal to be the NFL’s first official casino partner, or Caesars’ new betting deals with two NFL teams, an NBA team, and an NHL team, came into play in the Eldorado acquisition: Nope.
Instead, Eldorado CEO Tom Reeg repeatedly mentioned the World Series of Poker, which Caesars has sponsored since 2004. The “iconic brand names” of Caesars, Horseshoe, Harrah’s, and World Series of Poker, Reeg said, amount to “a level of property and brand that we have not had the great fortune to control—and now we will.”
It is a reminder that for all the fervor over the rising tide of state-by-state sports betting legalization in America, and how the pro sports leagues have embraced sports betting, the major casinos aren’t yet focused on this area.
Much has been made—arguably too much—of how state-by-state sports betting legalization will upend business for the Las Vegas casino operators, but that hasn’t yet been the case.
In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports betting, the big leagues, as well as fantasy sports companies, have moved quickly, in lockstep with the seven states that have joined Nevada in legalizing sports betting in their state.
The NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS all struck betting partnerships with MGM, while the NFL struck a deal with Caesars. FanDuel sold to Irish bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair. DraftKings opened a walk-up betting window at Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said that the value of every U.S. sports franchise instantly doubled thanks to the SCOTUS decision.
Caesars recently cut a deal with ESPN to license sports betting data and even open an ESPN-branded studio in the Linq Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. It signed a multi-year pact with DraftKings to offer sports betting in states that have legalized. Eldorado, meanwhile, has a 20% ownership stake in William Hill, whose U.S. arm is quickly becoming a leader in sports betting offerings, and made William Hill its exclusive sportsbook operator at all Eldorado casinos in states where sports betting is legal.
And still, no mention of any of these deals on the merger call until analysts asked about them in the Q&A portion at the end.
Morgan Stanley analyst Thomas Allen asked: “In terms of sports betting, both companies had a number of different partnerships, how are you thinking about that going forward?” Eldorado CEO Reeg responded, “We see them all fitting together... We think the opportunity in sports betting in the combined company is as good as there is out there at this point.”
Another analyst, Brian McGill of Telsey Advisory Group, pushed further on sports betting and asked if the combined company might look to make a new acquisition in that area. Reeg answered, “I mean, I would say we can... but we really like the setup that we have with our partnerships... We really like what we’ve got there, and we’ll analyze if there’s a better way to go about it, but it would surprise me if there is a different answer.”
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.