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Q&A: Gila River CEO Kenneth Manuel on Sports Betting in Arizona

Christopher Boan for Bookies.com

Christopher Boan  | 6 mins

Q&A: Gila River CEO Kenneth Manuel on Sports Betting in Arizona

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With the start of Arizona sports betting just days away, one of the key stakeholders will be Gila River Hotels and Casinos.

The company partnered with BetMGM and the Arizona Cardinals in August, with plans to launch sportsbooks at the company’s three locations, as well as another at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

Gila River Hotels and Casinos CEO Kenneth Manuel took time to chat with Bookies.com about his thoughts on legalized sportsbooks, as well as the BetMGM/Cardinals partnership.

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Bookies.com (BDC): Take me through your thoughts on the partnership that you guys just inked with BetMGM and the Arizona Cardinals, and how that how that deal came about.

Kenneth Manuel: Obviously, we're extremely excited about the partnership. And when the state of Arizona started talking about sports betting and legalizing it in Arizona, it really kicked off our thoughts about what could happen, what it would look like, inside our casinos, and from a mobile perspective.

So, when the talks first started happening, we started formulating our ideas and our thoughts around (legalized sports betting) and Gila River Hotels and Casinos has a long-standing partnership with all the major league sports franchises in the state of Arizona.

And so, when we were looking at providers, obviously, we looked at the BetMGM group as an up-and-coming company and really seeing what they could do for us.

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I mean, MGM already has a very strong following, especially in the western region of the United States. So, we thought it would be a great idea to partner with them.

We went through our due diligence. (We found) that the sports teams in the Valley were also going to be able to capitalize on this.

It just started cooking in our head, just really kind of getting an idea of what could possibly take place. So, understanding that Arizona took a very careful approach, with legalizing sports betting in the state. Tribal gaming being regulated by the state of Arizona already. We carefully went through this and thought, "Well, let's see what we can do with this."

So, we had conversations with BetMGM; with the Arizona Cardinals, who have a fantastic group over there. And really that's how things took place.

Arizona’s Sports Betting Marketplace

BDC: What potential do you see gambling in AZ having?

KM: So, what exists in other markets is having legalized sports betting available, and having that, the mobile platform allows a provider like BetMGM to really offer that availability through their mobile app.

So not only will you see (sports betting) in a retail, brick and mortar facility, such as our facility. Gila River Hotels and Casinos will have physical sportsbooks at all three of our locations.

But you will also have the availability to wager on a mobile app as well. And I know that the same concept will be available for the Arizona Cardinals as well.

BDC: I'm curious of your thoughts on the Arizona marketplace and how the sportsbooks you just mentioned at Gila River Hotels and Casinos can stand out in what's sure to be a crowded field of sportsbook operators in Arizona once the market gets started?

KM: As one of the largest operators in the Valley and in the state, I believe that Gila River Hotels and Casinos, by going through their due diligence and in selecting BetMGM as our provider, is just going to take us to another level.

It’s because of their name, what they bring to the market, and what they do in other markets, is what helped us select BetMGM as our provider.

But we just feel like a lot of our players and our guests and all the folks in Arizona, especially now that the state of Arizona legalized other (casino) games. Live Baccarat, live craps, live roulette – a lot of folks won't have to travel for five hours up north to get to Las Vegas.

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How Arizona Stands Out

BDC: Going off that, what’s your opinion on how Arizona's market can stand out in the shadow of Vegas?

KM: I would say that Gila River Hotels and Casinos has evolved over the last 10 years. And we've really elevated our brand.

So, I don't see us as just a casino operator, so to speak. Over the years, we've developed our brand into not only on the food and beverage side, (but) the entertainment side, the hospitality side, with our hotels, and all the other amenities that we offer.

But now just adding the additional games that have been legalized, as well as the sportsbook operation, partnering with BetMGM, continuing to leverage our partnerships with the other sports teams in the Valley, like the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Arizona Coyotes and the Phoenix Suns.

So, I think it all just really continues to elevate what we're doing at Gila River Hotels and Casinos. We're building a new 200-plus room hotel tower at Wild Horse Pass. We have an amazing refresh that's going on at Wild Horse Pass as well.

So, you're going to continue to see Gila River Hotels and Casinos just elevate and really expand our offering to the residents of Arizona.

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A Bright Future for Sports Betting

BDC: What excites you most about the prospect of legalized sports betting in Arizona?

KM: I think just from an operator standpoint, I think it's being able to offer an amenity that that has existed in the Las Vegas market for so many years.

Our ability to leverage the partnership with the Arizona Cardinals, who have an amazing following already in the state of Arizona. This partnership and being able to offer a legalized version of sports betting that that will be regulated as well, I think is what I'm looking forward to.

BDC: Is there anything else we have not discussed yet that you would like to talk about?

KM: Just the fact that we've built a great reputation in the Valley. We partner with so many amazing groups. And we have an amazing team of professionals and industry professionals that have helped get us, not only to this point, but who will also help take us into the future.

So (I’m) just very fortunate to have worked for the enterprise. I started with the enterprise from day one, back in 1994.

I started out as a line employee, and I've worked my way up to CEO. So, I'm extremely proud as a member of the Gila River Indian Community, and to lead this organization into the future.

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About the Author

Christopher Boan for Bookies.com
Christopher Boan
Christopher Boan has covered sports and sports betting in Arizona for more than seven years, with stops at ArizonaSports.com, Tucson Weekly and Green Valley News.