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GCB recommends licenses for fast-growing Bally’s, William Hill

The Nevada Gaming Control Board has recommended licenses for two of the fastest-growing companies in the gaming industry.

The board on Wednesday recommended approval of licenses that would give Caesars Entertainment Inc. control over the state’s largest chain of race and sportsbooks.

Earlier in the meeting, a unanimous recommendation was made to license Bally’s Corp., formerly known as Twin River Worldwide Holdings.

William Hill U.S., which has more than 120 sportsbook and kiosk locations across the state and is a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based William Hill Plc, would become the centerpiece of Caesars’ sports wagering operation if the board’s unanimous recommendation is adopted by the Nevada Gaming Commission when it meets March 18.

Caesars’ $3.7 billion deal for William Hill, first announced in April and approved by shareholders of both companies, is scheduled to close March 23.

The two companies currently operate as a U.S. joint venture with 20 percent and 80 percent equity ownership respectively.

Through the existing joint venture, William Hill runs online sports betting operations through Caesars’ market access in each state and retail sports betting operations in Caesars’ properties as well as those of other casino operators around the United States. Caesars owns and operates 54 domestic properties in 16 states. The company’s resorts operate primarily under the Caesars, Harrah’s, Horseshoe and Eldorado brand names.

Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson termed the deal “a straightforward merger” between the two companies.

“It’s a big one and there’s lots of background material, but there are not a lot of issues,” Gibson said.

Caesars CEO Tom Reeg, who has seen big mergers before — he led Reno-based Eldorado Resorts Inc.’s effort to acquire Caesars for $17.3 billion in 2019 and 2020 — said he expects sportsbooks to help drive traffic to other parts of the casino.

“We’ve seen customers show up that were not otherwise coming that skews younger, tends to be a table-games customer, tends to drink a lot of beer — all good for a casino operator,” Reeg said.

William Hill, the third-largest sportsbook operator in the United States, has ridden a wave of expansion that began in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, leading the way to legal sportsbooks in states that wanted them.

Board members recommended unanimous approval on another licensing request that peripherally involved Caesars, but was more complicated.

The board recommended a series of licenses that would register Bally’s Corp. as a publicly traded company in the state, operate the Montbleu resort in Stateline at Lake Tahoe and issue favorable suitability findings for several of its executives.

Bally’s moved closer to getting licensed after a two-hour hearing with final approval also scheduled March 18.

Testimony centered on the company’s planned operation of the Montbleu, which it acquired in a two-property package deal for $155 million as part of Eldorado Resorts’ bid to divest properties in advance of its acquisition of Caesars. Bally’s was an alternate buyer after Eldorado had originally announced it was selling to privately held Maverick Gaming.

Bally’s is not affiliated with the Strip casino with the same name, but it does have a connection with the casino’s owner Caesars — it acquired the Bally’s brand from the company in November.

Bally’s, a Providence, Rhode Island-based regional gaming company, owns and operates gaming and racing facilities across the United States.

Its gaming and racing facilities include slot machines and various casino table games, and restaurant and hotel facilities. As of December, it owned and operated 11 casinos that comprise 13,260 slot machines, 459 game tables, and 2,941 hotel rooms, as well as a horse racetrack across seven states.

Bally’s President and CEO George Papanier told board members his company has one of the best regional gaming footprints in the market and the third-largest footprint for online sports betting in the United States.

Board members also questioned how Bally’s would leverage its recently announced partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

Sinclair, which operates 21 sports networks and 188 television stations across the United States, including KSNV Channel 3, Las Vegas’ NBC affiliate, plans to incorporate Bally’s branding to its regional sports networks.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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