Hooters bets on gambling as new guest draw

The sports bar chain is hoping its game-day bonafides will make it a destination for bettors as the activity becomes more widely legal.
Hooters exterior
Photograph: Shutterstock

Hooters of America has long been known as a place to watch sports. Now it wants to be a destination for betting on them as well. 

The 380-unit sports bar franchisor is investing heavily in gambling as the activity becomes more widely legal, forging partnerships with companies like DraftKings and dedicating some of the many TVs in its restaurants to gambling content.

Hooters hopes that aligning itself with sports betting will both bring people into its restaurants and get them to stay longer and order more food, said Sal Melilli, CEO of Hooters of America.

The initiative is a natural fit for the brand that has long sought to draw people in with its scantily-clad waitresses and vast array of TVs. 

“Our benefit is, again, already being a leader in the sports bar world being able to add to the experience for the consumer,” Melilli said.

Hooters is currently promoting gambling in 27 restaurants across five states. It’s now legal in 30 states, and the chain has a total of 80 restaurants in those markets.

Current programming includes a partnership with BettorView, a service that allows restaurants to display betting odds and promotions on their TVs. It’s also working with DraftKings to promote the online sports betting platform in its restaurants, and it has gaming machines in some Georgia locations.

Hooters won’t derive revenue directly from these efforts, Melilli said, but it should get a second-hand benefit from people who stick around to see if their bets pay off, ordering another pitcher of beer or basket of wings in the process. 

It’s still too early to say whether that scenario is playing out, he said. “We’re starting to see a little stickiness in terms of more customers coming in,” he said, adding that the culmination of March Madness as well as the coming NFL season should yield telling results.

And as more markets legalize gambling, more restaurants will come on line. 

“We’re seeing there’s a strong demand for the legalization of gambling,” Melilli said. “We’ve been in it from the beginning and we’re in tune to that.”

The effort could add to what has already been a strong return to on-premise dining for Hooters. That’s being augmented by the continued success of its off-premise business, which now accounts for about a quarter of sales. 

Last year, same-store sales at the chain rose 7% compared to 2019—a performance Melilli said signaled a “renaissance” for the brand. He believes embracing gambling will only add to that momentum.

“It’s just a natural accelerant on an already successful sporting business that we have,” he said.

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