Nevada Gaming Control Board greenlights Betfred to operate Virgin Hotels’ sportsbook

January 25, 2023 9:29 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
January 25, 2023 9:29 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

The Nevada Gaming Control Board has recommended that the state license Betfred Sportsbook after a two-hour hearing Wednesday in which the UK-based operator was questioned over regulatory failure, plus nondisclosure in its Nevada application.

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The 2-0 recommendation during a special meeting set the stage for the global operator to appear before the Nevada Gaming Commission for approval Thursday and allows the operator to accept wagers at the Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas ahead of the Super Bowl.

Virgin, the former Hard Rock, reopened in March 2021, but has been without a sportsbook while Betfred went through the licensing process. That was impacted in part by the pandemic, which made investigations more complicated.

If approved on Thursday, Nevada will be the 10th state in which Betfred operates. The others are Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Virginia, and Maryland. Seven other launches in Alabama, California, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Oregon are pending.

Betfred currently operates in seven brick-and-mortar locations and two states that are mobile. In Nevada, it will initially open as retail only, before expanding to mobile wagering by the fall.

During the hearing, Betfred executives were questioned over past regulatory issues. Among them was a $3 million fine issued last fall by the UK Gambling Commission for what was called “failings in its social responsibility and money-laundering controls” after a customer lost 70,000 pounds just after opening an account.

The operator was also fined in 2019 for not complying with money-laundering policies. It paid $400,000 on allegations that it allowed someone convicted of fraud to deposit more than $250,000 in stolen money, with most of that lost.

Mohegan Sun Casino General Manager Joe Hasson said the tribe oversee the sportsbook and, except for the manager who will be a Betfred employee, the others will be employed by the tribe.

There are no plans to add parlay cards and pari-mutuel racing at this time. Parlay cards will be considered before the start of the NFL season in September. Mobile will be a priority.

“Any successful book needs to be mobile to achieve the success that’s intended,” Hassan said.

Despite their intense questioning, the two Board members signed off on approval.

Board Chair Brittnie Watkins said she appreciated that Betfred executives accepted responsibility for failure to disclose information in the application. She said that was addressed quickly and Betfred was cooperative.

“With many of the changes that have been made to improve due diligence (and leadership changes), improving communications flow, and building a centralized reporting structure and with the good reputation of Betfred, I’m comfortable moving forward with the application, given these improvements and acknowledgement and willingness to take responsibility.”

Board member Phi Katsaros said he’s “a resounding yes and would hate to see any guardrails,” such as a time limit on the license, even though there were concerns with nondisclosure. He said that happens in a big operation.

“I’m happy and excited for the state of Nevada to be able to recommend an approval here,” Katsaros said. “Part of our charter is to foster a competitive environment and while we do that, we have to ensure the parties that come before us are going to be suitable. They have exceeded their burden here today to prove their suitability. I think they’re going to bring a great product.”

Betfred was launched in 1967 by brothers Fred and Peter Done, who had worked in their father’s bookmaking shop. It has a 1,400-shop network, second largest in the UK behind Entain.

Las Vegas serves as its U.S. headquarters, which it opened in 2019, and has 67 employees. It expects to hire another 23 to 30 employees in Nevada by the end of 2023.

The company, which has partnerships with NFL franchises in Cincinnati, Denver, and elsewhere, said it’s targeting $163 million of gross revenue by 2025.

The sportsbook at the Virgin will measure 1,269 square feet, seating up to 100 people and featuring a dozen 80-inch televisions. There will be four counter windows for in-person and live wagering and two self-serve kiosks.

Sportsbook veteran Lou Damico has come out of retirement to serve as vice president of race and sports for Betfred.