By PAUL MARYNIAK

Gila River Hotels & Casinos has big plans for the sportsbooks it will be building at its three casinos.

And the guiding words for those sportsbooks at Wild Horse Pass, Lone Butte and Vee Quiva casinos are “unique” and “luxury,” according to Dominic Orozco, the chief strategic marketing officer for Gila River Hotels & Casinos.

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“Betting alone does not do it,” said Orozco, calling sports betting “an amenity thing that we wanted to make sure we capture wholeheartedly… we had to take this to a different level and not just offer betting.”

Indeed, he said, a sportsbook is “an additional amenity that we brought on to support …all the gaming things that we have.”

Gila River Hotels has partnered with BetMGM, which also has partnered with the Arizona Cardinals to operate a sportsbook at the team’s home stadium in Glendale.

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

And 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 and fantasy sports to less popular competitions like cricket, rugby and  Swedish soccer.

The three Gila River casinos combined are devoting 15,000 square feet of space to sportsbooks – two thirds of that at Wild Horse Pass Casino.

Orozco expects the Vee Quiva and Lone Butter sportsbooks to open before the end of the year, while the Wild Horse Pass sportsbook likely won’t be done until close to the Super Bowl. All three have temporary facilities to handle sports betting now.

Each casino will be offering a unique physical environment to attract bettors who want more than the thrill of a wager.

All this is occurring as commercial gaming revenue nationwide reached a record $13.6 billion in the second quarter of this year, according to the American Gaming Association.

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 with revenue totaling $43.6 billion.

The association also reported that while sports betting in the second quarter of this year declined by 8 percent to a mere $888 million because of “a quieter sports calendar,” it also reported:

“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.

Gila River Hotels & Casinos has latched on to one of the big gorillas in the world 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’s you’re typically seeing in Vegas is the old traditional type of sports books…. This is a little bit different.”

He said the books at all three casinos will be “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 way for one of them, Shula’s Steak House is being relocated while the other space will be housed by 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 and we will incorporate two blackjack table games inside the venue.”

He said that casino also may have a “player interactive game” where staff from, say, the Cardinals, will narrate 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 server 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.

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

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 at its casinos.

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