Arizona Sports Betting A Bonanza For BetMGM & Others, Gila River Marketing Chief Says
Christopher Boan | 10 mins
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The third fully-built retail sportsbook in the state of arizona opened its doors Friday morning on the southwestern edge of Phoenix.
The facility, operated by BetMGM Arizona at Gila River Hotels & Casino’s Vee Quiva property, joins FanDuel’s Footprint Center facility and TwinSpires Sportsbook’s location at Mazatzal Hotel & Casino in Payson as the only full sportsbook facilities for Arizona sports betting.
There’s also the Caesars Sportsbook betting window outside of Chase Field downtown, which will be replaced by a retail facility in early 2022 inside the former Game 7 Grill location outside the Arizona Diamondbacks’ stadium.
Friday’s opening represented the first facility built by the three-party partnership of Gila River Hotels & Casinos, BetMGM and the Arizona Cardinals - representing the first tribal-sports team-operator deal in the country.
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Bookies.com chatted with Gila River Hotels & Casinos Chief Strategic Marketing Officer Dominic Orozco to get the lowdown on the Vee Quiva facility, and the company’s sportsbooks at Gila River’s Wild Horse Pass and Lone Butte properties, which open Nov. 11 and Nov. 13, respectively.
The conversation below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Bookies.com: How does it feel at Gila River Hotels & Casinos to open your first retail sportsbook?
Dominic Orozco: It’s unbelievable. We're completely amazed by just the progress to get here. It's been an over two-year goal and initiative of the enterprise to get sports wagering, and a sportsbook at the property.
So, it's a big day for us, a lot of hard work, a lot of planning. We started off, on the community side, because we're owned by the Gila River Community. And the progress to work with the state of Arizona to get the (2021 gaming compact), to allow sports betting.
Once that came to fruition, we spent two years of touring the country to make sure we find the right provider that fit with our brand and our model, the enterprise to bring in the fold to partner with us, and BetMGM fit the bill in that sense.
Because they're operators of casinos, and they're on the western portion of the country in Las Vegas. And so, when you look at the marriage that was created, it's something we've been working on for a long time. So, it's been an amazing partnership.
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Bookies.com: Take me through how we got to this moment. How did your partnership with BetMGM and the Arizona Cardinals happen? And what stood out for you guys, when it came to looking at BetMGM versus other operators?
Orozco: Two years ago, we started, and we went to Atlantic City. We went to New York and the Meadowlands area, we went to Las Vegas, and every jurisdiction that offered gambling.
We knew first and foremost, because we are the largest gaming enterprise in the Phoenix area, that we had to have the same large brand as a partner.
So, we looked at the DraftKings, the FanDuels, we looked at the Caesars, we looked at BetMGM, of course.
And when we compiled everything together, we wanted a strong partner and a strong brand. We wanted a partner that was involved in being highly invested in the market of Arizona.
And we wanted someone that had a commonality between being an operator of casinos. And when you put all those factors together as our catalyst about who we're going to pick, you will see that BetMGM rose to the top.
And the analogy I use is that with FanDuel and DraftKings, most of them are based on the East Coast. But when I say MGM, or BetMGM in Arizona, your mind automatically goes to Vegas.
And so, we knew it was a company that would help us leverage our brand. But we took it one step further. Our whole intent with this partnership was to gain market share and own market share. And with that, we had the conversation with the Arizona Cardinals.
And it's the first deal of its kind where we've been able to ink a three-way partnership between the Arizona Cardinals, which is an NFL team, you have the largest enterprise in the Valley, and you have one of the largest operators in sports betting, in BetMGM.
And for us, we want to plant a stake in the ground and say to others that we will be the best of what we do. And we want to bring the largest brands together to formulate the best product and own market share in the Valley.
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Bookies.com: You mentioned market share. What impact do you see sports betting having on Arizona's economy? And how do you see Gila River, BetMGM and the Cardinals fitting into that ecosystem?
Orozco: It’s new for us. I mean, we've only been live since Sept. 9. So, it's not a lot of data that we have so far. And what we're seeing is very promising in terms of people activating accounts.
Right now, a lot of people are trying out platforms. And it's a very promotional-heavy time-period for acquisition in the market. But we feel very comfortable that once this all settles down, we are still going to have a decent grip on the fair market share (in Arizona).
It's still hard right now, just because the number of promotions that are going on. Every consumer that has started taking part in sports betting right now is trying every single platform and every single brand.
And I think it's a usability feature of the platform. If people gravitate towards it because it is easy to use and really understand it. That's one big piece. And then promotions are another piece. And then there's the third piece, and that is affinity to brands like BetMGM, because they're linking into their system, and they're earning points or things like that.
So, it's kind of hard to say how this is going to end up, but I will say that I think the likes of FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, and even BetMGM – they're going to be the biggest players in the area and you're going to see them just like other jurisdictions around, they're usually the ones that are out there that are outliers, in terms of dominance of market share.
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Bookies.com: How important is it for Gila River to be one of the first tribes to have a retail sportsbook in the state?
Orozco: So, although we are the second (Arizona tribe to open a retail sportsbook), I will say, this is a venture that saw us build brand new retail sportsbooks at each property.
We have three properties right now. We didn't retrofit essentially an area that was already there. We took the area, stripped it down to the bare studs, and built something brand new. We've been working on it for the past six months in building infrastructure.
So, I know that the enterprise, we always pride ourselves on being first to market in everything we do. And with the gaming compact that just came on that allows sports betting and allows other amenities on tribal land – like new table games – we never had craps, roulette, or baccarat in this jurisdiction, because it wasn't allowed.
We have that now. We’re also no longer capped on certain limits on a lot of devices. Previously, there was a limit that you can only wager up to a $1,300 max bet on a table. That's been removed.
There were $35 handle pools on a slot machine that have been removed. The amount of slot machines that you can have per community and per tribe has also increased.
So now we're far more equipped to accommodate the load. And what we're seeing is that the market is growing in Phoenix, and will be more of a Las Vegas type offering, which is amazing to us.
We’re also making a big move in our brand as an enterprise, in that we’ll be renaming it “Gila River Resorts & Casinos” in January.
We are building a $150 million expansion on our flagship property to implement that new resort evolution. So, it is a big paradigm shift in the entire enterprise for us, not only the state of overseeing with sports betting and all the other tribes, but as an enterprise, we were making a huge shift on the resort category.
Bookies.com: How do you see those retail sportsbooks and other amenities adding to Gila River’s existing profile in the Valley?
Orozco: So, one of the things we considered is, how do we make this area activated all day long, and not just when sports are going on?
So, what you will see is that there are complements in this that are maybe unorthodox in sports betting. We have three big garage door-type windows that open, and you can see South Mountain from there.
You have a full access to see the surrounding area at large while you're inside the sportsbook. You'll see full access to the outside as well as the landscape view. You normally don't get that in the sportsbook.
There is a patio that's outside the sportsbook that you can go out and sit by a fire pit there and you have a bar out there that you can sit there and listen to live music. Outside the sportsbook. You will find slot machines inside the sportsbook. You will find table games inside the sportsbook.
So, we made an experiential piece to all of this. The bars in there are unbelievable. They have “Build Your Own Margarita” stations in them.
I will say we wanted to make sure the whole space was activated. We want to make sure that you could sit in there even if the game wasn't going on and have a good experience. You could do table games or slots, drink and have a great time. And you might happen to make some wagers here and there while you're in there.
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Bookies.com: What’s the response been like from customers since you guys started building these sportsbook facilities six months ago?
Orozco: The consumers and guests are anxious. They see the building going on, we put up renderings outside the infrastructure that we're building on. And they like what they're seeing from the renderings, and they're very anxious to see it in person.
They were happy with what they saw here at Vee Quiva, and this is one of the smaller builds that we have (versus the Wild Horse Pass and Lone Butte properties).
It’s a very open setting. We don't want to wall anything in, we wanted to be very open. And what we see from the consumers is that they're excited with what they see. The other thing is the employees, the employees love the investment. The employees love to see that we're a part of this when something changes in the market. We want to be a leader in that. They take pride in that stuff.
Bookies.com: Where do you see this market kind of stacking up when it hits maturity, and how do you see Gila River fitting into that grand ecosystem once it does hit full stride?
Orozco: Each one of those markets you just outlined is a feeder market for us in Arizona and Phoenix primarily, with all the events we have going on and (with Arizona) being one of the few states with all four professional sports leagues represented.
This is a sports-centric town. And as sports fans, Phoenicians can make a wager on their favorite team.
It's really elevated the experience when you're watching games and hometown games primarily. We've been setting this up for a while and if you look at the Gila River portfolio, you will notice that we have exclusive casino sponsorships with every single major sport team in Phoenix, and with ASU (Arizona State University).
And so, we've been prepping for this model knowing that Phoenix is a sports-centric town. We’ve got a partnership with all these sports partners leading up to the wagering piece of that because we knew it would be a big deal.
And the thing we’re most excited about is not the wagering, it's having a sanctioned system in place, because wagering in a non-sanctioned or non-regulated environment can be an issue. And we are happy that now you will see sports wagering happening in a legal and regulated manner. And I think that's something that's extremely important to us. Where tax dollars are going back to the states that they're in. That's a win-win for everybody.
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