Editor's Note: The Road To Maturity: While sports-betting launches continue across the U.S., several states are transitioning from the launch phase to the next chapter of their path to a mature market. VIXIO GamblingCompliance spoke to regulators in multiple states with varying degrees of tenure about their journeys thus far and what the future holds.
This week marks the two-year anniversary of Indiana’s sports betting launch, and the state has quietly thrived as a sports betting hotspot, garnering a top five finish in both handle and revenue among U.S. states in the first-half of 2021.
The state currently features 12 mobile sportsbook operators that combined to bring in over $1.6bn in betting handle during the first half of 2021 and $139.4m in gross revenues, the fifth highest-ranked state in the U.S. in each category.
“Our legislative and the regulatory framework that we’ve created has been attractive to operators,” said Sara Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC).
“We’re strong regulators, but we also created an environment where innovation is not stifled and we didn’t impose unnecessary rules and requirements, and we also were really collaborative,” she added. “I think that’s really created an environment that the industry knows our clear expectations and we work together as partners.”
Tait will step down from her post on September 10 after ten years at the helm of the commission, but prior to the announcement of her resignation, Tait and deputy director Jenny Reske spoke to VIXIO GamblingCompliance about the process of launching sports wagering and the state’s path towards becoming a mature sports-betting market.
“We just decided from the start to be very transparent and collaborative and to engage the industry and all the different stakeholders, which I think was critical,” Tait said of the initial preparation for crafting the state’s regulatory model.
“They understood we had a job to do, and we had a statute that was guiding our actions, but if there are best practices, we were fine modeling them and taking the feedback and saying how can we use this in Indiana.”
“There was no pride in authorship from our perspective,” she continued. “We’re a mature regulatory agency, we’ve been regulating casino gaming for thirty years, so we were able to take a lot of the skills we had already developed and apply them to creating a sports wagering framework.”
For the gaming commission in a state with a land-based casino market but no interactive gaming, the infusion of technology into the regulatory process has been a welcome sight.
“The technology is incredible; from a regulatory audit perspective, we welcome it,” Tait said. “Sometimes I think for policymakers it can be viewed as a little bit scary, but from our perspective, it gives us enhanced regulatory tools to be able to track and perform audit functions.”
“The tools technology gives us are really useful in determining what kinds of players we’re dealing with, what activities they’re involved in and so forth,” Reske added.
“We’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of activities peoples are participating in in-person, but when it comes to reviewing our online accounts, that’s really simple,” Reske said. “That’s been a welcome change for regulators.”
Tait said the commission recently added two new staff members to help with some of the demands of sports betting, including occupational licensing, approvals of technology, promotional reviews and vetting potential event types.
“I think we knew the lay of the land pretty well from other jurisdictions, but one thing we had to adjust to was the volume,” Reske added. “It’s something we can manage, but if I had to come up with something that’s been a surprise, it’s definitely how many things require our review and response.”
“A lot of times these companies want to be able to move quickly when they have a good idea and they want to launch something, so a lot of it’s also time-sensitive, which also requires more resources as an agency.”
While Indiana launched before the onset of the pandemic, the effects still touched the process in many aspects, particularly when it came to the commission’s position on approving wagering events.
“I remember when we launched and I think it’s even in a memo somewhere about how we’ll be measured (on approving events) and all this stuff,” Tait said.
“Then COVID happened and we’re approving events in Belarus, and I was like, this is not the measured, traditional sports that we were intending on approving, but we obviously felt confident in those activities and the parameters, and they met our rules.”
“I think we definitely entertained some more events and leagues than we probably would have but for the pandemic,” she added. “Sports betting didn’t really stop for us; it was the one kind of activity that continued during the peak of the shutdowns."
"We were pretty much a well-oiled machine before the pandemic hit, but I do think it impacted some of the events that we did approve.”
The increased attention to detail is also something that has been felt from the operator side based on feedback the commission has received.
“Casino gaming is our model, the regulatory framework for that, and I think that some people had a little bit of culture shock based upon how in-depth some of our regulations are,” Reske said. “I think that’s true of any operator, any time we get a new casino operator in the state there’s a little bit of culture shock and getting to know each other.”
“Navigating all these different states launching, I think you’re seeing just as the IGC is staffing up, you’re seeing these companies staff up more too to account for more states coming online and the increased workload that comes with the strict regulation for the privilege of having sports betting in our state,” Tait added.