LSR Q+A: How Circa Sports Owner Will Attack Colorado Sports Betting Launch

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Circa Sports

Circa Sports launches its Colorado sports betting app today, the first venture outside Nevada for the Las Vegas company.

Owner Derek Stevens values the sportsbook experience because he’s a significant bettor himself. How will his experience in Nevada influence the launch of Circa in the highly competitive CO sports betting market?

We spoke with Stevens about what’s next in Colorado, why the Circa Sports app never shut down when casinos closed, and if the coronavirus pandemic changes plans for his massive new sportsbook in Las Vegas.

LSR: Tell us more about what you have planned for Colorado.

Stevens: Yeah, we’re excited. I think Circa coming to Colorado, it’s going to be our first foray outside of Nevada. And we’re pretty excited to get into Colorado. It’s a remote registration, remote funding state so we’re going to have a little bit of learning with that.

But I think Colorado did a great job with the way they structured their regulations and I think there’s going to be a heck of a great market for everybody.

LSR: Tell us more about you’re talking with remote registration, remote funding. It’s obviously different than what you’ve had in Vegas for a long time. What sort of learning curve is there?

Stevens: We’ve focused on, as everyone has in Nevada, you really have to focus in on your physical locations. And in Colorado, obviously, it’s a big state geographically and it kind of puts you in a position where when you’re market, you really want to cover the entire state.

So for us, it’s going to be a little bit different, as much as we’re launching Circa Sports under the new IGT platform in Colorado. In Vegas, we use Stadium, so we’re going to go with that brand-new IGT product.

From a marketing perspective, we’re trying to hit the whole state and hopefully we have the ability to provide a competitive landscape and take a little bit of market share.

LSR: When it comes to marketing, how does it change in Colorado because it seems like everybody has a pile of cash to throw bonuses at people and that sort of thing. What do you guys plan for marketing the app?

Stevens: We believe obviously bonusing works and such but it’s a little bit different. We view our bonus – if you take a look at a golf pool, we’re going to put up 144 golfers. If there’s that many in the pool, you’re going to be able to shop and be able to see, OK, I can get this guy at 22-1 versus 18-1. I can get this guy at 80-1 where the best you can get is 50-1. So we’re really going to come in from the perspective that we’re focusing a little bit more on low hold and providing people the best value.

The other thing that we’re going to do is, we’re not going to shy away from the sharps and we’re not going to shy away from the large bets. That’s something that Circa’s done here in its year of existence in Nevada: we’re willing to take a lot of six-figure bets and we think that’s going to be another differentiating factor for Circa in Colorado.

LSR: How do you take the experience that you’ve had with the Circa Sports app and transfer that to Colorado?

Stevens: Think about sitting next to you on a Sunday and all of a sudden, nine o’clock and then 9:30, and then 10 … the one thing that’s clearly changed from 40 years ago, or 10 years ago, is the amount of volume you get right before kickoff or tipoff.

That wasn’t the case in the old days when we had to go to the counter. I still remember 20 years ago, I wanted to make sure on a Sunday, I got to the counter by eight o’clock so I didn’t get shut out.

Nowadays with the app, you’ve got to feel really, really comfortable with your risk team and that they’ve got sharp numbers out there. Because you don’t know exactly where and how the volume is going to come in.

When you have that much showing up in the last half-hour, you’ve got to be very comfortable taking these wagers because you don’t have enough time to get off the number. So if all of a sudden you get piled on on one side, you end up as a book taking a little more risk because so much action comes in late.

LSR: Here in Nevada, the Stadium apps all look pretty similar. Once you get outside Nevada, the apps take on a really different look. How will the Circa Sports Colorado app differ from Nevada?

Stevens: Well, this is the new IGT app, so it’s not out yet. We’re going to be launching with it.

I believe the customer interface may be a little better ease of use. In general, the reason why we went with IGT is because we felt that their new product was going to be a little bit better. Certainly when you take a look at teasers, parlays, other things like that, I think the user interface is going to be a little bit better.

LSR: The new Circa property is opening in October. What, if anything, changes with the pandemic situation in terms of how you set up that retail experience at the sportsbook?

Stevens: I think things are evolving. I told a couple of people yesterday, when I say they’re evolving, I mean they’re evolving quickly. When you think about reopened June 4, opened up and maybe 90% of the customers didn’t wear masks. Two weeks later, it’s about 60%. And as of a couple days ago, it was pretty close to 100% (wearing masks.)

I think that consumers have changed in the last three weeks pretty dramatically. The one thing I’ve noticed here in the last week is that people are now figuring out how to be safe, yet still have a lot of fun. So they’re trying to figure out a way where safety doesn’t have to deter you. I think there’s an element of safety where now that people feel a little bit more comfortable with other people, which is a good thing.

As Circa goes, October 28 is still quite a few months out. We have to see how things evolve with this virus. I mean, 10 days ago it looked like we’re going down a pretty good path around the country here. In the last week, all hell’s broken loose, particularly in Texas, in the Southwest.

So to some degree, it’s a difficult question to answer because things are changing so dramatically. If we have to make some adjustments, we’ll be prepared to do that by opening.

LSR: How with the Circa Sports app in Nevada, did you adjust when everything shut down?

Stevens: The one thing was Circa Sports, we never shut down. And I’m happy to say that we never shut down and obviously Matt Metcalf, Jeff Benson and crew went to kind of more of a skeleton shift, but our app stayed open 24 hours a day.

And it was a few weeks into the pandemic where we jumped on this curbside service idea. It’s kind of crazy, but it worked out. Heck, we had more people signing up for the app while we were closed than when we would have been open so it was pretty amazing.

Throughout the pandemic, things started changing. Like all of a sudden, UFC is the first thing so the amount of UFC action was just over the top. And that was pretty cool.

Then when ESPN did the TV, showing one KBO game a night, I’m like, oh we’ve got to jump on this KBO and Korean baseball. A ton of fun, I mean, it’s been terrific. So the volume that we’ve seen has been great.

The app has been something where you can still have some fun wagering and you’re in full compliance with all social distancing, just a little bit of an opportunity to make some plays and stay safe.

LSR: What is the future for app betting versus in-person betting?

Stevens: If you look at a sportsbook perspective, the three-story sports book, biggest sportsbook, I think that when people come to Las Vegas, if you’re a sports fan, whether you’re staying at Flamingo or Caesars Palace or Bellagio or Tahiti Village, you’re going to want to come down and see the biggest and best sportsbook.

So we’ve done it in a way where it creates these attractions for certain audiences. Some people are going to want to be at the pool, some people are going to want to check out the sportsbook.

I’m a big believer that having a great brick-and-mortar is a good thing. Now obviously around the country, that’s a little bit different. But I think having a great brick-and-mortar Las Vegas is a huge advantage for us.

LSR: How do you feel about in-person registration and funding in Nevada? Any tweaks you would like to see?

Stevens: I think the Nevada Gaming Control Board is doing a great job with trying to embrace technology and yet maintain the fact that Nevada is the gold standard. I think they’ve done a great job of trying to balance out new technology with making sure that there’s not any crazy things going on. I think they’ve done a good job with regard to remote registration and remote funding.

I know it’s a little bit of a controversial thing. Some of the sports betting companies want that and some are very adamantly opposed to it. So it really more depends on your individual business model. I think we are very comfortable under either scenario.