LSR Q+A: Gabe Prewitt On In-Person Kentucky Sports Betting

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Kentucky sports betting

If the first rule of business is “location, location, location,” then in-person Kentucky sports betting offered plenty of appeal when it launched last year on Sept. 7.

Surrounded by legal sports betting states, Kentuckians no longer needed to cross a border to get their wagers down.

The Caesars Sportsbook at Red Mile Gaming and Racing in Lexington took in the most in-person volume with $6.8 million staked there through October. The location also produced nearly $967,000 in revenue, 45% of all retail sportsbook winnings in the market’s first seven weeks.

Gabe Prewitt, VP of racing and sports wagering operations at Red Mile, recently spoke to LSR about the early days of Kentucky sports betting, the challenges of running an in-person sportsbook in an online dominant world, and why he believes the location makes Lexington an ideal retail market.

LSR: (A few) months into Kentucky sports betting, how is it going?

Gabe Prewitt: Everything is going well. We got thrown right into the fire with the start of the NFL betting season being opening day for us. Then, college football. We got stuck right in the busy part, so we had to hit the ground running and learn as we went.

Everything has exceeded our expectations. It has been a lot of fun and has driven a lot of new traffic to the property.

What have you learned about your customers so far?

Prewitt: We opened up for the first three weeks without online sports betting. Everybody was on-site, and we knew those would be the busiest three weeks in the whole history of our sportsbook.

It gives you the challenge of setting up a long-term plan and a short-term plan at the same time. There were long lines when we opened, so we decided to add additional betting kiosks. That was one of the big things.

We wanted you to be able to get in and out if you wanted to. There are 14 total kiosks now, 10 in the sportsbook and a few others in high-traffic areas of the facility.

We have introduced a lot of new people to the property. The sports betting crowd trends a little younger than the historical horse racing machines or a live horse race. We have brought in a lot of fresh, new faces.

Do you find kiosks are more popular than walking up to the window?

Prewitt: I like to walk up to the counter and place my bet, but I am a sports betting dinosaur. About 70% of our play is on the kiosks, in both money and tickets. People are very comfortable using the kiosks.

Generally, a younger crowd likes to put together these giant parlays. Those are quickly done at the kiosk, more so than at a window.

We also have horse betting kiosks, so we see a bit of everything.

Before KY sports betting apps launched, six, seven, or eight people would be in line at the kiosks. The counter would still be empty. That is how much people preferred to go to the kiosks.

What challenges do you face as a retail operation in an online-dominant world?

Prewitt: When we first opened, many people would enter the property on a mission. They went straight to the sportsbook, jumped on a kiosk, and got their plays in. We lost a lot of those players when online Kentucky sports betting launched.

What we want to do is give our customers a great experience. The advantage is the location near downtown Lexington and the space to host large Super Bowl betting and March Madness betting events.

Probably the most significant advantage, though, is being local. Many of these sports betting companies are national brands that do not know the local landscape as well as we do. Having boots on the ground is critical for us in planning and hosting events people will be proud to attend, and they know the price will be right.

Online sports betting offers the convenience of not having to go anywhere. There is a lot of competition in Lexington. Every bar or restaurant has a game on.

You cannot just turn the lights on and open the doors. You have to be creative and find ways to tap into the passion of sports fans around Lexington and give them a reason to leave their house.

What about Red Mile and Lexington has made it an early leader in the Kentucky sports betting market?

Prewitt: I always believed that Red Mile in Lexington was the best retail location in the state. The advantage is that we are centrally located.

It is the second-largest city, but it is also isolated. Everywhere else with a racetrack, they are already on the border of a state with sports betting. Those in-person sportsbooks are not going to see a tremendous influx of customers.

We have our little niche here in central Kentucky, where it is all new to them. Unlike Turfway Park, right over the border from Cincinnati, and even Churchill Downs in Louisville. They had legal Indiana sports betting and options in Ohio.

Everyone had been going to those properties for years. Caesars Southern Indiana serviced many players from Kentucky, and many of their largest volume clients had Kentucky addresses.

How do you navigate maintaining a 21+ policy at Red Mile while Kentucky state law and some sports betting apps allow 18-year-olds to bet?

Prewitt: It is 18 and over for horse betting, which you can do at Red Mile. However, we made it our prerogative, and it is also Caesars’ national policy, 21 and over for sports betting.

With the proximity to the University of Kentucky campus, we never wanted to be seen as preying on that demographic. So, we all went above and beyond to maintain the 21 and over age limit.

You are asked for ID as soon as you walk into the building. For those 18, 19, and 20-year-olds, there are plenty of online Kentucky sports betting apps for them, and they know that. We have not had an issue with underage players trying to place bets at our property.