Wild Horse Pass putting luxury sportsbooks at Chandler's door - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Wild Horse Pass putting luxury sportsbooks at Chandler’s door

August 16th, 2021 development
Wild Horse Pass putting luxury sportsbooks at Chandler’s door

By Paul Maryniak
Executive Editor

As Arizona prepares to launch sports betting Sept. 9, the Gila River Indian Community is poised to become one of the big players after teaming up with one of the gambling world’s biggest operators.

Chandler will be right on the doorstep of some brick-and-mortar venues.

Now that the application time for licenses has expired, the Arizona Department of Gaming by the end of the month must winnow down a list of 15 tribal applicants competing for 10 available licenses allowing them to offer gambling on professional and college games both online and at retail, or brick-and-mortar, sites. State law forbids the department from releasing the identities of applicants but observers expect the GRIC to be among the winners.

BetMGM announced last week partnerships with Gila River Hotels & Casinos and the Arizona Cardinals, stating that besides digital betting, it will set up sportsbooks at the Arizona Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium and at Wild Horse Pass, Lone Butte and Vee Quiva casinos.

While online sports betting does a far greater business nationwide, retail sportsbooks’ revenue is nothing to sneeze at.

That’s why the brick-and-mortar sites will be offering more than, well, bricks, mortar and cashiers as they court both seasoned and amateur bettors on everything from professional games to fantasy sports to less popular competitions such as cricket, rugby and  Swedish soccer.

“You are correct in that betting alone does not do it,” said Dominic Orozco, chief strategic marketing officer for Gila River Hotels & Casinos.

“It’s an amenity thing that we wanted to make sure we capture wholeheartedly,” Orozco continued. “It was something that we felt is an additional amenity to support …all the gaming things that we have. We felt that we had to take this to a different level and not just offer betting.”

While the three GRIC casinos combined are devoting 15,000 square feet of space to sportsbooks – two thirds of that at Wild Horse Pass Casino – each will be offering its own unique physical environment to attract bettors who want more than the thrill of a wager.

And while the tribe and BetMGM will be ready to offer online wagering on Sept. 9, Orozco said it likely won’t be until November that betting parlors themselves will be completed though some retail service will be on site.

Commercial gaming revenue nationwide reached a record $13.6 billion in the second quarter of this year, the American Gaming Association said last week. With nearly $24.8 billion generated to date for 2021, the association said this year is on track to overtake 2019 as the “the highest-grossing year ever for commercial gaming revenue. And 2019 saw revenue totaling $43.6 billion.

The association also reported that sports betting in the second quarter declined by 8 percent to a mere $888 million because of “a quieter sports calendar,” but also said: “The first half of 2021 has already generated more sports betting revenue ($1.8 billion) than all of 2020 ($1.5 billion).”

Within the next five years, that total annual revenue from sports betting is projected to quintuple nationwide.

Gila River Hotels & Casinos has teamed up with one of the big gorillas of sports betting.

During a quarterly earnings call Aug. 4, MGM President/CEO Bill Hornbuckle boasted, “BetMGM remains a clear leader in iGaming, having reached a 30 percent market share in the second quarter.”

Kenneth Manuel, Gila River Hotels & Casino CEO, called BetMGM “the king of sportsbooks” while Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Lewis said, “Building on the successful launch of our new table games at Wild Horse Pass, this new sports betting operation will now continue our successful implementation of our historic new Compact arrangement.”

He was referring to the new agreement the state and Arizona tribes signed earlier this year that helped pave the way for sports betting.

Orozco said Gila River Hotels & Casinos is spending more than $12 million to retrofit portions of its three venues so betters can have a worthwhile experience beyond placing bets and watching games.

“We have taken areas of our casinos that haven’t been necessarily used or utilized for revenue-generating activities and are re-fitting them to be sports-betting.

“You will find in these sports-betting parlors, these books, not only that the bar and food and beverage complement is there. You will find a different, more modernized, state-of-the-art type of sports book. So what you’re typically seeing in Vegas is the old traditional type of sports books…. This is a little bit different.”

He said all three casinos will be offering “a very open-air sports book” that will be “very welcoming to the floor.”

“We want to make sure our players can get their bets in as quick as possible, as things are happening,” Orozco said.

At Wild Horse Pass Casino, two separate areas of the second floor will have sports betting operations. To pave the way for one of them, Shula’s Steak House is being relocated; the other book will be housed in what used to be the old disco called Chrome.

In one, a 250-inch LED screen that can be subdivided into as many as nine quadrants for nine separate games will be the center of attention.

“The viewing and the sound experience will be elevated,” Orozco said. “It’s more than just a couple speakers on the ceiling.”

He said the screen will emit different colors at dramatic points in a game “so that if the Cardinals score a touchdown, you’ll see team colors.”

One venue will have an “all-the-time-available sports book” while side with the giant screen “will be more spiritual,” Orozco said.

“You have not only the viewing; you will now have increased bars, you will have a dynamic food offering, we will incorporate two blackjack table games inside the venue.”

He said that casino also may have a “player interactive game” where staff from a local team will narrate live from a DJ booth the action on the screen. A real DJ will provide music when games break to commercials.

Vee Quiva’s sports book will have an outdoor patio “so folks can enjoy fire pits or their meals or whatever in an outdoor setting,” Orozco said.

And at Lone Butte – the casino that typically draws some of the heaviest gamblers because of its location – the sports book will have a special VIP section with “special TVs and special views,” dedicated servers and even special menu items.

At all three sports books, patrons will be able to place bets at cashier cages as well as from their comfortable seating areas.

Orozco said the books at Lone Butte and Vee Quiva will be able to accommodate about 250 people comfortably while its flagship Wild Horse Pass Casino book will be able to handle 400 to 500 patrons.

And none of the TVs at any of the sports books will be smaller than 175 inches.

Patrons will not only have their own menu but Wild Horse Pass also is working on kiosks from which sports book players also will be able to order from any other restaurant within each casino for pickup or delivery.

While it may take until early November to complete construction of the three casinos’ books, Orozco said that by the time the whole NFL hits the field on Sept. 9, “we’re going live” with online betting and some temporary physical area where people can bet on games.

Newbies to sports betting also will be able to find some instructions on the finer points of wagering not only online on Wild Horse Pass’ websites but also from live attendants.


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