Circa Sports Las Vegas: Loaded For Bear

Circa Sports offers something for every brand of fan and fanatic. By David McKee

Sports Betting Operator | Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa casino-resort is a dream given form. Where others saw blight – two outmoded, neglected casinos and a Strip club – Derek Stevens saw opportunity, as well as the first truly modern casino in downtown in decades. Part of his vision was one of the biggest, most dramatic sports books seen in Sin City. The Circa book rises three stories and encompasses offerings for just about every stripe of sports fan.

Nor did Stevens stop there. He augmented the sports book with Stadium Swim, a complex of swimming pools and relaxation areas dominated by … well, the term large-screen TVs seems pitifully inadequate to describe the billboards that Stadium Swim offers.

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Stevens’ ambitions didn’t end with Circa. Seeing a branding opportunity, he branched off Circa Sports, a terrestrial and online chain of books. Starting with three Stevens-owned casinos – Circa, The D and the Golden Gate – it soon encompassed three affiliates who preferred to ally with Stevens rather than launch books of their own. From Nevada it leapfrogged to Colorado, to Iowa and now to Illinois, where Circa Sports will plant its flag first at Full House Resorts’ temporary casino in Waukegan and eventually in the permanent American Place.

To get a handle on the burgeoning Circa Sports empire, we sat down with Director of Operations Jeff Benson late on a Friday afternoon. News of DraftKings’ attempt to take Fanatics out of the bidding for U.S. ownership of PointsBet had just broken, which only added spice to a no-holds-barred conversation …

When was Circa Sports spun off as a distinct brand and what was the vision behind it?

We launched June 1 of 2019. We were our own brand. We were probably the first independent line in Nevada in maybe 10 0r 15 years. As we’ve grown we’ve added a total of six properties here in Nevada. We’ve expanded to Iowa and Colorado in a strictly mobile setting. Then obviously we look forward to our Illinois expansion later this summer or early this fall, in both a retail and mobile capacity. That’s kind of what our growth path looks like here at Circa Sports.

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What goals do the Stevens brothers have for Circa at this time? Anything beyond what you’ve just outlined?

For us, we’re taking the long approach. We don’t have to be in every state and every market right away. We’re being thoughtful and purposeful in terms of the places that we go into. Our goal is to bring sports betting the way it should be to as many people as possible in this country. We hope to be in all 50 states at some point. But we’re working on our own tech stack. We’re growing organically and just trying to get people to understand our brand and the other things that distinguish ourselves versus some of the cookie-cutter operators out there.


Could you elaborate on what “sports betting the way it should be” means for you guys?

A lot of people who work here bet. We just want to treat people the way that we would want to be treated if we walked into a sports book. So we try to be as organic and transparent as possible, whether that’s what our hold on each specific market is, what

we’re going to take in that market – just how we operate. Then basically try to get people down as much as possible. Obviously it’s hard to get down at a lot of these more-recreational books, so for us, having big limits, welcoming winners and utilizing their information to help make our lines sharper, those are some of the core competencies that we focus on and how we differentiate ourselves versus others in the industry.

Circa made its name in sports betting with its signature book in Las Vegas. Could you describe it for readers who haven’t seen it? It’s quite impressive.

Circa is the first new hotel and casino in downtown Las Vegas in 40 years. It’s a billion-dollar property. What we try to focus on is attraction-based viewing. Whether you think about the world’s largest three-story sports book or the world’s largest pool amphitheater at Stadium Swim, for us we have two of the best venues to which you can come and get a first-in-class experience in terms of watching games and feeling the electricity, atmosphere and energy, akin to being at the stadium. When think about those venues, whether it’s the sports book or Stadium Swim, you have the best-in-class odds on sports, the best-in-class TVs and it’s just a first-class, one-of-a-kind experience that you don’t typically see at other places because they don’t hold the sports book in as high regard as we do. For us, we center everything around sports. We built the sports book so big we had to build a casino around it.

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In an era in which mobile betting is predominant, what is the importance of having such a book?

People still like going to games, going to sports books. People like being around other people, cheering and rooting on their bets. It’s the next best thing if you can’t go to the game. You’re not going to find a bigger screen in the world. The energy and electricity and the atmosphere, it allows us to bring people in to see our hotel and casino, and it really drives handle and volume for us. Other places may not get that because they don’t put such an emphasis into their physical book. Mobile continues to grow and will continue but, especially for us here in Nevada and hopefully in Illinois, we believe having these retail books will help people to get to know us. It provides a first-class viewing experience for people who want to watch the game and follow their bets.

What is the arrangement between the Circa flagship and satellite books like Tuscany or The Pass?

For us in our downtown properties like The D, Golden Gate and Circa, Derek Stevens – who is the owner – he owns those casinos, whereas at the other places, the satellite properties that you alluded to, we don’t own the casinos, we just operate the sports books. It allows us to expand our footprint, get to know more customers and service more people just by running those satellite books at those satellite properties. That’s a model that’s pretty popular out here in Nevada. Obviously, when we expand into these other states we’re utilizing certain casinos for skins or licenses. We’ll be partnering with Full House Resorts out in Illinois when we launch.

In the case of Full House, what can we expect of the book at The Temporary at American Place and what will the eventual, full book at American Place be like?

At The Temporary we’ll have three windows. We’ll have a huge kiosk wall with 15-plus kiosks. We’ll have a book that has 25 to 30 TVs. We’ll have people who can bet on the kiosks 24/7, on the mobile app 24/7. We’ll have people at the counter a good enough time to where the retail book is going to be a core component of what we do. We’ll be like that for a couple of years while the main, flagship casino is being built. The hope is when the flagship casino is built, we will have a book that represents 85 to 90 percent of what we have here in Circa, minus maybe a tiny bit of seating.

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Image: Derek Stevens co-owner of Circa, the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate

How would you compare the Nevada, Colorado and Illinois licensing processes?

Illinois has been quite a lengthy process.

Nevada still requires in-person registration to open a mobile-wagering account. Where does Circa stand on this issue?

Ideally, people are able to sign up remotely. That would be better for everybody involved. We try to target states—when we look to expand outside of Nevada—that have favorable remote funding and registration components, as opposed to having to physically go into the book.

I’m sure you are following the bidding war over PointsBet. As operators either consolidate or withdraw from the market altogether, what opportunities does this present for Circa?

We’re playing the long game. There’s a lot of operators in this space who have, quite frankly, no clue what they’re doing. When you alluded to that bidding war, it’s one company that knows nothing about sports betting trying to buy another company that knows even less about sports betting. For us, we’re going to continue to do the things that we do well, the things that separate us from those in the industry. Consolidation is coming. It’s not good for the player because they’ll have fewer unique operators to bet into. But five, 10, 15 years down the line you’re going to have less operators than you have now and a lot of the Mom-and-Pop shops will be bought up by some of the bigger players.

The sports betting market has grown rapidly in America. What are we learning as this happens?

That we’re still in the first inning and most people have no clue what they’re doing. We have a long way to go. When you look from a state-by-state perspective, the rules and regulations, and the user experience from one state to the next is very inconsistent. When you have so many people with their hands in the cookie jar and a lot of people talking who have never been in the industry before … there’s a lot of problems in the industry. People thought legalization was going to change a lot of that stuff. I’m not confident that legalization has made things a ton better.

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What safeguards are in place to ensure that Circa’s books don’t have the same kind of scandals that are occurring in, for instance, Ohio?

When you look places where they come out and say ‘We have a can’t-lose parlay’ that can lose, you have a lot of people doing a lot of things and they don’t really know the industry or the consequences that come with their behavior or the things that they do and say. We have a lot of guys who’ve been in the industry a long time, who have a lot of experience. Responsible gaming, doing things the right way and sports betting the way it should be are things that are important. We just have a different tune and a different approach than a lot of these recreational books. That’s why we’re looked at differently.

What kind of responsible-gaming messaging is Circa putting out?

It’s different in each state with respect to what the operators and regulators want to see. Responsible gaming is something that’s particularly important to us and the way that we operate. We don’t do a ton of ‘risk-free’ bets, ‘can’t-lose’ parlays, deposit bonuses and matches. We don’t have any brand ambassadors or people who go on these shows and tout picks, so we just try to stick the basics and what we know. We let some of the other operators do some of the more chintzy kind of things that we alluded to. Responsible gaming is extremely important to us. We follow what each jurisdiction wants to see, and it’s first and foremost, and at the front of everything we do.

For those who haven’t seen it, what is Circa’s marketing like?

We have the best in class customer service, the lowest hold on future markets, the best pricing, the highest limits. We’re a shop where winners play and everyone’s welcome.

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Image: Jeff Benson Circa Sportsbook Operations Manager

There’s a lot of controversy now about the volume of marketing. Where does Circa stand?

The amount of marketing out there as it relates to these same-game parlays these operators jamming stuff down customers’ throats is pretty disgusting. I like tweet occasionally and do some stuff like that. But you’re not going to see us run mainstream commercials and do a lot of what the DraftKings and FanDuels do. It’s a pretty different take over here.

On the lighter side, what have been the best sporting events for Circa other than the obvious ones (Super Bowl, March Madness)?

Football is king, whether you talk about the NFL or college football. The fall months are going to be the best months. People love football, obviously. When you get to the playoffs, the NBA finals and the Stanley Cup—particularly with the Las Vegas Golden Knights—those are things that generate a lot of interest. Then you have one-off events, whether you think about the Kentucky Derby and stuff like that. You have people coming out and signing up for our contests. There’s different ways we go about generating business and excitement outside of the Super Bowl and March Madness, which are probably the two biggest times of the year.

What types of bets do customers favor most: single-game, propositions or parlays?

Major markets, sides, totals, money lines. That’s predominantly where we’re going to find most of our volume and handle, just because we take the biggest limits.

And what events are you looking forward to the most, as we pass the midpoint of the year?

Obviously once you turn the page and get through NBA and hockey you have a couple of months where it’s pretty slow. Then as we get into pre-season football, that’s when things really gear up. We put a ton of effort and energy into our contests. Everybody’s going to be ready for football.

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What do you have in store when the Las Vegas Grand Prix comes to town?

We’ll have some activations at the book, up at Stadium Swim, at Legacy Club. We’ll try to get as many people in the doors at Circa as possible and I imagine we’ll have an expanded F1 menu as we’d have for a traditional F1 race. It’ll be exciting to see people gravitating to F1 in Vegas. As we’ve seen with the Knights and the Aces, having March Madness in town and getting the Super Bowl next year, it’s nice to get some big events in town, and really drive tourism.

Finally, Las Vegas gets the Super Bowl next year. How are you preparing?

We’ve got the world’s largest three-story sports book, the world’s largest pool amphitheater. I’d imagine you’d have every seat in the sports book sold, every table sold, every hotel room sold. Vegas is such a party town anyway and having the Super Bowl in town for the first time is only going to elevate that to the nth degree.


*** This exclusive feature interview with Circa Sports Las Vegas was originally Published in Sports Betting Operator Magazine in July 2023 ***









Circa Sports Las Vegas: Loaded For Bear was first seen on Sports Betting Operator