As 2023 starts and the industry gets ready for another 12 months of gaming action, Circa Sports CEO Derek Stevens spoke with Yogonet on what 2022 meant for the company, what to expect from Las Vegas going forward, and the evolution of the sports betting vertical.
"I think there's so much pent-up demand to come to Las Vegas that, even though there are some headwinds with regard to higher interest rates and the economy in general, 2023 looks to be a pretty good year," Stevens says.
Last year, the gaming industry left the pandemic behind, rebounding from COVID. What is your assessment of how the sector developed in 2022, and how would you describe Circa's performance over the past twelve months?
If we talk about Circa Sports, the growth of sports wagering in the United States has been really unbelievable. We're up in Nevada, Iowa, and Colorado. We also announced that we will open Circa Sports Illinois in 2023, which is a huge market, with Chicago and those suburbs.
So from the sports betting perspective, the volume and handle of sports gaming throughout the country really, really grew. With so many states allowing sports wagering and more games on television, the sports business is really just starting to take off. And I still view sports as being in its infancy from a wagering perspective.
From a Las Vegas perspective, with our three casinos here - Golden Gate, The D and Circa Las Vegas - 2022 was a good year. We saw a comeback after COVID. 2022 is really the first year where we started seeing more international travelers. Quite an increase in Canadian and Mexican travelers. And we really did start to see the rebound from the UK, Europe, Australia and Asia.
As you say, Las Vegas certainly rebounded. In fact, it broke a new record last year, despite macroeconomic concerns. What is your evaluation of the current landscape? Do you see some softness coming in?
The last time we spoke in the summer of 2022, I definitely had some concerns with regard to inflation, with the increased price for flights and the increased price of gasoline. What we've noticed is is gas prices over the last six months have come down substantially. Flights are still expensive, but the demand is very high. I mean, in the month of November, we had a record amount of travel into Vegas.
I still think that there is still so much pent-up demand that it looks favorable as we look to 2023. The other thing with 2023, and then further out to 24 and 25, is that the convention business is being very aggressive. I think the resurgence of conventions and group meetings that we'll see here in Las Vegas is an element that's really going to be talked about in 2023 and 2024.
Circa Las Vegas, in fact, opened new meeting and convention space last year.
We opened a new meeting space with 13 meeting rooms. For us, it kind of sets us up for a whole new division of business throughout the year. We're pretty excited about having this space available because it's clearly going to impact our 2023 and going forward.
We designed the space to have some of the best technology of any meeting space in Vegas. We've added an awful lot of audio-visual opportunities for groups that want to utilize the space. And so far, it's been great. We've got about 40,000 square feet of meeting space. So far, the early interest level from convention groups and things like that has been very positive.
Still speaking about Nevada, Circa opened the new sportsbook at Legends Bay Casino last year, a property that became the first new Reno-Sparks casino in decades. What have the first few months been like since then?
It was really unique for Circa Sports because this will be the sixth location that we have in the state of Nevada. But it's the first location that we've put in in northern Nevada. So it opens up the opportunity to hit the Reno-Sparks area and it opens up the opportunity for Northern California, the Bay Area, San Francisco, Oakland, and the Sacramento area. So far it's been very good. It's all new customers, it's all incremental.
Going back to what you mentioned at the start of our conversation, Circa Sports will be launching in Illinois. Full House Resorts is gearing up for the opening of its temporary Waukegan casino early this year, in which Circa will open a sportsbook. How is this moving forward?
Full House seems to be targeting to open at the end of January of this year, so we're only a few weeks away in Illinois. The way the regulatory environment works is that the temporary casino opens first and then there's a period of time, between 60 to 90 days, where just the casino opens. The sportsbook does not open at the same time as the casino; it will open subsequently. So we should be open, we hope, later this summer in the temporary casino in Waukegan.
Speaking about sports betting in wider terms, the last time we talked you mentioned how you were looking forward to the football season. Now that the season is in full swing, how is it impacting Circa Sports' operations?
It's been a great year for sports. Football, both professional and college football, was terrific in volume this year. But also we've had significant growth in NHL, in college basketball, and pro basketball. Baseball season was also very strong. And then this year, there was the added benefit of the World Cup, which had a significant impact on growth for 2022.
We have a full 12 months ahead of us. What should we expect from this new year?
I think you're going to see some continued growth. We're excited about having a full year of utilizing our meeting space and ballroom space at Circa; and we're excited about growing in Nevada, Illinois, Colorado and Iowa from a sports betting perspective.
I think we're going to see some really good visitation to Las Vegas for the reasons we mentioned. And I think there's so much pent-up demand to come to Las Vegas that, even though there are some headwinds with regard to higher interest rates and the economy in general, 2023 looks to be a pretty good year.