William Hill CEO Joe Asher: Nevada business paying for expansion opportunities

William Hill CEO Joe Asher is a busy guy.

Whether it is managing the bookmaking company’s expansion into other U.S. markets or the jam-packed spring sports-betting season, Asher seems to always be on the move.

He watched the Kentucky Derby from Delaware on Saturday and was back in Las Vegas two days later for the opening of the revamped William Hill sportsbook at the Strat. He spent some time with the Las Vegas Sun.

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William Hill CEO Joe Asher

Here are highlights of the conversation, which were edited for clarity:

The remodeled sportsbook area here at the Strat looks open and inviting. Was that the idea behind the new look?

It’s a great space. We’re really happy about it. When Golden (Entertainment) bought the Strat and the Laughlin and Arizona Charlie’s properties (in 2018), we had conversations about expanding our relationship with Golden and partnering on those sportsbooks. It worked out to where there was a deal to be done. Here at the Strat, this is as nice a sportsbook as you’ll find anywhere. We’ve always been fans of this type of communal sportsbook, as I call it, where people can sit down together and move chairs around and watch games and have a few drinks — socialize, basically. If all you want to do is make a bet, you can go on your phone now and do that. The whole point of the modern sportsbook, I think, is that social experience.

The proliferation of legal sports betting continues to spread to different states across the country. How will this trend affect William Hill?

We’re now in the season where bills get passed in the legislative cycle. The governor of Montana just signed a bill, Tennessee passed a bill, which we’ll obviously take a look at. In Iowa, I think there’s a bill on the governor’s desk. We’re trying to assess things to figure out what’s attractive and what we can do. At the same time, our Nevada business is what’s really paying for our expansion elsewhere. We’re hyper-focused on doing the best we can with our Nevada business and continuing to invest in Nevada like you see here (at the Strat).

William Hill also recently opened a sportsbook at M Resort. How’s that going so far?

Things are going well. We have a pretty good start, but things are also just getting going there. The book could use some freshening, some renovations, and we’ll talk to our partners about that.

Was the controversial decision at the end of the Kentucky Derby to strip Maximum Security of the win the right call?

It was unfortunate because the best horse was Maximum Security, but, without question, the right decision was made. For whatever reason, he veered out on the turn and took out the 1 horse (War of Will) and the 18 (Long Range Toddy). The 20 (Country House) was kind of a lucky beneficiary of it all. I feel bad for the connections of Maximum Security and for the people who bet on him because they bet on the best horse, but, there’s no question the (Kentucky Derby) stewards did the right thing. It’s a miracle (War of Will) didn’t go down. I thought it was pretty straightforward. I saw it when it happened live on TV in Delaware and I texted (William Hill vice president of strategy and business development) Dan Shapiro to tell him the 7 horse might come down.

In a way, could this be good for horse racing because so many people are talking the controversial derby finish?

Well, even the president weighed in and tweeted about it, which was an opinion I didn’t agree with. This was on news shows, so, yes, there was massive publicity for the Kentucky Derby. Thank God there wasn’t a wreck because horses and jockeys could have gotten hurt. It was a scary situation. I think the attention and discussion is great.

The Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated from the NHL playoffs last month on a separate controversial call. How has the Golden Knights being out of the playoffs affected wagering on hockey?

I’m still pretty bummed about that. We should still be playing hockey right now. Frankly, the interest in hockey here in Nevada has dipped after the Golden Knights got knocked out, so it was bad for business. I was mad about it, too, because I’m a fan.

In March, the Nevada Gaming Commission rescinded a rule that banned betting on professional baseball teams based in the state. With the excitement about the Las Vegas Aviators and their new ballpark in Summerlin, has there been action on the Aviators?

There has. It’s small, but there’s a little bit of interest. People going over to a game and putting a few dollars on it. It gives people a rooting interest. I’m actually going to a game (at Las Vegas Ballpark) this week. I’m looking forward to it.