Sometime before noon Saturday, the first legal sports betting ticket will be sold in West Virginia, as Hollywood Casino in Charles Town becomes the first of five state casinos to offer sports betting.
Workers continue to put the finishing touches on the new sportsbook, the lounge area that will feature nine betting stations and nearly three-dozen big-screen televisions.
Staffers are going through the final paces of training on new sports betting machines.
“It’s going to be big,” Erich Zimny, vice president for racing and sporting operations at Hollywood, said Monday. “Just how big is tough to say.”
It’s been a whirlwind.
The effort went from passage of legislation to legalize sports betting in West Virginia on March 9 to a May 14 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a federal ban on sports betting in most jurisdictions to rebuffing attempts by Gov. Jim Justice to impose “integrity” fees sought by professional sports leagues to the launch date — all in less than six months.
“I can’t tell you how many calls and questions I’ve gotten about the sportsbook, when it’s going to open,” Zimny said. “It’s nice to have this amount of buzz and excitement going on.”
While the West Virginia Lottery Commission’s aim had been to put the five casinos on a timetable to launch in time for the first major NCAA football games of the season on Saturday, and more importantly, the start of the NFL season on Sept. 6, only Hollywood Casino will meet that goal, with Lottery officials expecting the other casinos to come online somewhere in mid-September to mid-October.
For Hollywood Casino, by far the state’s largest casino, and one hard-hit by competition from casinos in Pennsylvania and Maryland, including the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor Resort and Casino, the launch of sports betting is especially significant.
“Finally, after everything, we get to show off our shiny new penny,” Zimny said.
For at least the foreseeable future, Hollywood Casino will have a monopoly in a lucrative region that includes the Washington-Baltimore metroplex.
While sports betting in itself is not expected to be a huge revenue generator, either for the casinos or the state, the goal is that it will attract more visitors to the casinos, and to the state, via use of mobile apps to place bets.
“We think it’s going to add a lot of foot traffic,” Zimny said.
Saturday, at 11 a.m., former Washington Redskins quarterback and longtime NFL broadcaster Joe Theismann will headline opening ceremonies at the sportsbook, at the conclusion of which sports betting will go live with ample time to place bets on the noon NCAA games, Zimny said.
“I would anticipate, come Saturday, it will be a pretty hectic scene here,” he said.
In addition to betting on the outcome of sporting events, Hollywood Casino will offer a variety of “prop” bets, such as picking the first team to score a touchdown, and will eventually offer in-play betting, in which odds will change throughout the game depending on the score, allowing players to place bets on games in progress.
While the sportsbook takes up a considerable amount of space on the casino floor — dominated by a 50-foot wall featuring odds boards and nine 82-inch TVs, Zimny said the intent is for it to compliment other gaming options at the thoroughbred racetrack and casino.
“We see this as an additional amenity we can offer, as opposed to cannibalizing something else,” he said.