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Leading Las Vegas: A British firm is upending America’s booming online sports gambling market

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Last September, as the NFL season was swinging into high gear, the buzzy sports betting firm DraftKings threw its own Hail Mary pass: It offered $22.4 billion to buy a little-known British company called Entain. As Jeremy Kahn writes in “Leading Las Vegas,” the offer illuminated the state of America’s online gaming business: It’s on the verge of enormous growth; but American companies are running well behind their British rivals in the gambling-tech arms race.

The tech gap reflects a legal divide: Online sports betting has been legal in the U.K. since 2005, but was forbidden in most of the U.S. until a 2018 Supreme Court ruling. As a result, British companies have a huge head start over their stateside rivals in technological development. Many U.S. companies building online gambling businesses have brought in British partners to make them run smoothly. Among those partners: Entain, which serves millions of gamblers through BetMGM, a joint venture with casino giant MGM Resorts.

Kahn pulls back the curtain to reveal the infrastructure that keeps Entain humming—3,000 engineers and coders, with expertise ranging from cybersecurity and fraud detection to payment processing. Just as impressive, if more ominous: Entain’s data-analytics team, which trains artificial intelligence algorithms to recommend new bets and games to its 160 million customers.

The DraftKings deal fell through several weeks after Kahn’s story ran. But with online gambling expected to be a $32 billion business in the U.S. by 2030, it’s safe to assume Entain will have other American suitors.