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Buffalo Wild Wings signals interest in sports betting

August 10, 2018

Buffalo Wild Wings rode the development of flat-screen TVs and smartphones to build its chain of sports bar-style restaurants coast-to-coast. Sports betting may provide a new round of growth.

The Golden Valley-based chain, a unit of Inspire Brands Inc. of Atlanta, is considering ways to incorporate betting into its restaurants after a Supreme Court ruling in May struck down a 1992 federal law that banned sports gambling in most places.

As the largest sports bar in America, we believe Buffalo Wild Wings is uniquely positioned to leverage sports gaming to enhance the restaurant experience for our guests, the company said in a statement. We are actively exploring opportunities, including potential partners, as we evaluate the next steps for our brand.

A spokesman said Thursday that the company is very early in the process.

Inspire Brands, a closely-held firm that also owns Arbys, bought Buffalo Wild Wings for $2.9 billion in February. The deal came after Buffalo Wild Wings endured a battle that began two years ago with an activist investor who pushed management to sell real estate and turn the cash over to shareholders.

For a decade before that, Buffalo Wild Wings had been one of the fastest-growing restaurant companies in the country, riding on changes in the quality and breadth of sports on TV and, later, on the internet and mobile devices. The company marketed its restaurants as a destination to watch major sports events. Its financial results often reflected the impact of sustained events like playoffs in major sports, the Olympics and the soccer World Cup.

The company had a Nevada gaming license for some of its company-owned locations in Nevada to offer slots and other gambling activities.

The state of New Jersey challenged the federal law that banned sports betting in all states except Nevada. In overturning the ban, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion, Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.

Since then, New Jersey, Delaware and Mississippi have legalized sports betting. West Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are all considered likely prospects to do the same later this year or early next year.

As more states join in, the decision at Buffalo Wild Wings to acknowledge an effect on its business is a sign that other bars and restaurants are likely to jump into the fray. Already, the two leaders in online fantasy sports betting, FanDuel and DraftKings, have said they intend to offer betting services for real-world sports events.

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