The Expansion of Kentucky Sports Betting Could be Barometer for Rest of USA Market

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: May 20, 2024 08:00 PM
The Expansion of Kentucky Sports Betting Could be Barometer for Rest of USA Market

Another sportsbook has officially joined the Kentucky sports betting market.

Circa Sports’ mobile wagering services went live in the Bluegrass State on May 14, making it the eighth retail sportsbook in Kentucky. Its debut is both a big deal for the parent company and the state. 

Does “big deal” equate to a good move? That’s among the questions many are starting to ask. 

Financially speaking, this launch profiles as a win. Legal sports betting in Kentucky rolled out in September 2023 and has exceeded ever since. In particular, the Bluegrass State set records for betting on the 2024 Kentucky Derby

This success so far suggests that the sports gambling market is large enough to accommodate another provider. But can Circa sportsbook in Kentucky really hope to compete with heavyweights such as DraftKings and FanDuel?

DraftKings and FanDuel Retain Overwhelming Share of Kentucky Sports Betting Market

These days, any time online sportsbooks in the United States launch in a new market, they wind up facing stiff competition. Not only that, but it often ends up being the same competition. Almost 30 states now offer online sports betting sites, and both FanDuel and DraftKings operate in the majority of those.

Competing with larger corporations is tough. Circa Sportsbook’s road won’t be any easier. As James Bisson of Sportsbook Review recently wrote, FanDuel and DraftKings essentially combine for a monopoly in the Kentucky sports betting market, despite sharing the ground with other well-know operators:

“Circa Sports will be in a major battle for market share in the Bluegrass State. It will be up against some of the best sports betting sites in the U.S. legal sports betting industry, all of which have gotten a head start on Circa Sports in Kentucky. DraftKings and FanDuel have combined for roughly 75% market share in the state since it legalized wagering in September 2023. Some of the other top Kentucky sportsbook apps include well-known brands such as bet365, BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, ESPN Bet, and Fanatics Sportsbook.”

This is a tough field with which to compete, let alone outpace. And it’s compounded by Circa Sports’ relative newness. Though Circa sportsbook in Las Vegas is basically an institution, they are only just starting to expand their reach. The Circa sportsbook in Kentucky will be the company’s fifth overall throughout the country. 

Circa Sports Remains Optimistic They Can Compete in Kentucky

When launching, of course, it helps to have brand recognition. That’s why Penn Entertainment branded their online sportsbook ESPN Bet. “ESPN” is synonymous with sports throughout the country. But opportunities on that scale are few and far between. Penn Entertainment knows this too well. They initially tried to launch a sportsbook under the BarStool Sports brand, but it never gained traction on the same level as first- and second-tier sportsbooks in the USA.

Despite the hurdles involved, Circa Sports remains optimistic that their Kentucky online sports betting site will stick. 

“We are thrilled to launch Circa Sports in the great state of Kentucky,” their CEO, Derek Stevens, recently said (via Gaming Intelligence). “We’ve always had our sights set here as we know it is a major hub for college sports, horse racing and more. We are looking forward to providing Kentucky bettors with some of the best odds and expertise out there.”

Circa Sports is expected to eventually open a brick-and-mortar location in tandem with their Kentucky mobile sports betting app, which should help with brand awareness. They also timed their launch with betting on the 2024 PGA Championship, which took place at the Valhalla Golf Course in Louisville, Kentucky

As of May 20, the day after Xander Schauffele won the PGA Championship in Kentucky, no exact sports betting figures were released. But launching around a tentpole sporting event that’s taking place inside the market is a smart play. And while launching Circa sportsbook in time for betting on the 2024 Kentucky Derby would have been ideal, structuring it around PGA Championship betting odds was a worthwhile alternative.

Other States and Sportsbooks will be Watching How Kentucky Sports Betting Market Fares from Hereon

For first tier sports betting markets in the USA, there’s almost no such thing as too many sportsbooks when it comes to supply and demand. Is this also true for the Kentucky sports betting scene? Well, we’re about to find out.

While online sports betting in Kentucky has become wildly popular, it does not unfold on the same scale as online sports betting in New York or online sports betting in Ohio. Those are top-10 markets. Kentucky sports betting is a notch or two below that, mostly because it’s short on pro sports franchises and ranks in the bottom half of the United States in total population, according to StatsAmerica.org.

Still, Kentucky sports gambling regulators clearly think there’s room for an eighth operator. Time will tell if they’re right. We’ll likely know within the first year, when we see how much of the market share Circa Sportsbook has soaked up. 

Meanwhile, other states and sportsbooks will no doubt be watching. Certain places have limited the amount of online sports betting licenses they hand out to both simplify regulation and avoid market cannibalization. Operators won’t be happy if they determine they’re fighting a losing battle against bigger companies like DraftKings and FanDuel. Regulators must also be concerned with the prospect of consumers getting inundated with sports betting options and the advertisements they bring. That, in turn, can lead to diminished interest.

Granted, giving Circa Sportsbook a full year may not be enough time. New launches should be prepared to ride out small-market-share stretches for a couple of years before making a determination. But we have seen companies pull out sooner in the face of poor performance. We’ll have to see if the Kentucky market is big enough to placate Circa Sports and all of its other operators.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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