When the Vegas Golden Knights score their second goal against the Edmonton Oilers—a nifty midair redirection of a shot from the blue line—the foghorn blasts and chants of “Go Knights go!” take a couple of minutes to die down. It’s a Thursday night in February at the new, 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. “They have cost us a lot of money,” says Joe Asher, who’s watching in a suite above center ice in blue jeans and a half-zip fleece. Asher, chief executive officer of William Hill US, oversees the largest collection of sportsbooks in Nevada, and the Knights—an NHL expansion team in its first season—have been winning more than expected.
Each victory can cost William Hill as much as $250,000, as local bettors have been enthusiastically backing their team.
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Not that Asher is complaining. Every bet that William Hill takes on the Knights is a reminder of how far the company has come in gaining a foothold in Nevada. The renowned British bookmaker owns more than a quarter of betting shops in the U.K., but as recently as 2012, it had no U.S. presence.
Now it runs 108 of Nevada’s 190 sportsbooks and takes in about 30 percent of the state’s $250 million annual sports betting revenue.
Pro hockey in Las Vegas is a good omen for William Hill. The NHL’s 2016 announcement that it would expand to the city marked the first time one of the four major American sports leagues had blessed it with a franchise. Until then, Las Vegas had always been seen as too risky because of its gambling industry and the potential for games to be fixed. The breaking of this taboo is part of why Asher is confident that sports betting will soon reach beyond Nevada and why William Hill is laying the groundwork to operate in other states. Nationwide, attitudes are changing.
Support for legalized sports betting hit 55 percent in a 2017 Washington Post poll, the first time a majority had backed the idea. “The U.S. market is going to open up,” Asher says. And it could happen soon.
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