BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
BURLINGTON – You could lay pretty good odds that sportsbook wagering will start on Thursday at Catfish Bend Casino.
Construction and training people scurried about the electric, almost futuristic room, that will house The PointsBet Sportsbook at Catfish Bend Casino beginning Thursday at noon.
Rob Higgins, Catfish Bend’s senior vice president of Iowa operations, said there are just a few hoops to jump through, but he thinks operations will be live on Thursday at the state allowed noon starting time.
“We’ve gotten our advance deposit sports wagering approved, and we’ve gotten our license already,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “Part of the process is you have to get your software approved, which is what were waiting on along with one other thing and we hope to have that today or tomorrow.”
Brian Orholiko, the administrator for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission told the website “Legal Sports Report” that no one currently is authorized to begin operations, but he said Catfish Bend is one of eight in the state he believes will be ready to go on Thursday.
Catfish bend has transformed the former Yong’s, and then Hachi, restaurants and some training and storage space into a roughly 5,600 square foot mecca of big screens, in-bar betting screens, slot machines, and gaming tables sure to curl the toes of almost any wagering enthusiast.
Great River Entertainment CEO Gary Hoyer announced in April that Catfish Bend Casino would partner with PointsBet, an Australian sportsbook company focusing on mobile wagering that also operates in New Jersey.
Complete with a VIP section that was still under construction as of Tuesday afternoon, the suite features a PointsBet sports wagering counter, about 26 slot machines, four black jack tables, a full bar with in-counter slot machines and enough big screen tvs to give you a stinger looking around the room.
Higgins said margins in sportsbook wagering are very thin, and the point of the new suite is to provide a different experience for customers.
“We worked very hard as an organization with the Iowa Gaming Association and with legislators to try to get this in a position where we all could not only make money, but build places like this and partner with PointsBet and people of that nature to create that experience for the customer,” Higgins said.
“It’s about the customer – it’s not always about us. It’s about what’s gonna bring the customer in – what kind of experience are they going to have and will they walk away saying, ‘Man, that was really worth it.”
Customers will have to register for the mobile app onsite the first time they want to place mobile wagers, but after that they can place a wager anywhere inside the state from mobile devices or desktop computers.
Higgins said anyone in Gulfport or Hamilton, for example, would have to come across the bridge to place a wager due to the geofencing that is part of the legislation.
The app will have a PointsBet logo and then will open up to a wagering board that users can navigate through to place wagers on just about anything. The one limitation is bets cannot be placed on individual performances of college athletes within the state.
The state will tax wagers at 7.5% with 6.75% going to state and local taxes and .75% going to local non profits, such as the Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission to help prop up those efforts.
The suite is just down the hall from the Boogaloo Cafe and Higgins said that creates some good synergies with the customers because it has quick access to food, and the casino floor is at the other end of the hall.
“When sports betting became possible we began thinking about the process of trying to turn it into this, and this is really the space I wanted to use for two reasons. No. 1 it’s great real estate. And No. 2 it presents a great opportunity to piggy back with Boogaloo Cafe,” he said.
“We’re not going to serve food in here, but we will have a full bar and it’s non-smoking. It’s close to the food and it’s close to the casino floor.”
Higgins hedged on talking about revenue stream or potential, other than to say it would take some time to see what that really looks like, but the focus was the customer experience.
“We’ll get an idea of what kind of revenue it will produce when we get up and running. You have to be careful how you present that,” he said.
“New Jersey has passed Las Vegas in sports betting revenue for two reasons first, it’s new, and second, it’s mobile and they are using that out there a lot. But there is a lot of population there as opposed to Iowa. So everyone is going to be feeling their way around it.”
He said hours at the suite will be similar to regular casino hours, but those specifics are still being tweaked prior to opening.