BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
BURLINGTON – Catfish Bend Casino Principal Owner Randy Winegard placed a $100 bet on the Iowa Hawkeyes to win the Big Ten football championship this year, the commemorative first bet at PointsBet Sportsbook at Catfish Bend Casino on Friday.
Winegard, dressed in shorts and a pull over, panned the rest of the Catfish Bend and PointsBet officials in suits for the grand opening of the sportsbook Friday afternoon.
“I think you’re all a bit overdressed for the occasion,” Winegard quipped to laughs from the room.
“We look forward to a very long and successful partnership and I would like to thank Rob (Higgins, senior vice president of Iowa Operations for Great River Entertainment) and everybody involved in the construction effort. This was a very short time frame. I think they did it in like six weeks, and it’s a pretty amazing transformation. The whole group involved has done a remarkable job in getting this place ready.”
But the new digs worthy of suits, sit on 5,600 square feet of Catfish Bend resort property just across the hallway from the Boogaloo Cafe and resort check-in desks with an east side entrance.
The space has 26 slot machines, 13 video pokers screens embedding in the sports bar, three black jack tables, 37 televisions, including a mammoth 137″ beast that sits like a theater screen above some luxury chairs along with about half of the other televisions.
There are also three betting kiosks staffed with PointsBet operators from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
Great River Entertainment CEO Gary Hoyer said Friday, there was concerted effort to mesh the casino and the sportsbook to provide something for all Catfish Bend players.
“In terms of our vision here, we wanted to combine the book with the casino, so we created a smoke-free space consistent with a bar operation in Iowa that also has black jack, video poker and slot machine components. We’re trying to marry the two and make it exciting for all our players.”
Hoyer said the quick turn around required a lot of focus from staff at both operations.
“It’s been drinking out of a firehouse,” Hoyer said “We’ve been working hard developing the internal controls, developing the procedures, establishing the bets. We’re not quite ready to go mobile, but that should be in the next few weeks. Right now we’re a retail sportsbook.”
The mobile app owned by PointsBet has to go through testing procedures which are delaying the live release, but Johnny Aitken, PointsBet’s USA CEO said the app will be released shortly.
PointsBet currently has mobile sportsbook operations active in New Jersey, but doesn’t have a retail outlet aside from the Burlington facility.
“We’re going through the final stages of testing. As soon as we get that final tick of approval we’ll go live,” Aitken said.
“I will add that right now we’re collecting names and emails and when the mobile app goes live a message will be sent out to make that as seamless as possible.”
Aitken said the Sportsbook facility is one of the finest he’s seen in the country and was impressed with the speed in which it was brought together.
“Three months ago when I first walked the space with Gary and Rob, it was a Chinese restaurant that hadn’t been used in a year,” he said in heavy Australian dialect.
“In just three months time they’ve turned into a premiere facility. Not just for Iowa – I’ve been to every sportsbook in America, and this is in the top echelon.”
Hoyer said the testing is critical to help protect the industry in Burlington and for the state.
“Iowa and Catfish Bend are all about protecting the integrity of gaming. While they’re operating in New Jersey, we still have the testing to go through here to make sure that everything is just perfect for our facility. As soon as it’s released from testing we’ll be going live.”
PointsBet originated in Australia and launched in the United States in January. PointsBet is a rapidly growing sportsbook with unique offerings and a bettor-friendly approach. PointsBet has introduced a slew of well-received, bettor-first initiatives, including: Good Karma Payouts, which provides bettors relief in the event of unlikely circumstances that sway the fate of the game, Early Payouts, and an exclusive $10,000 gameday guarantee for all NBA and NHL playoff games, as well as the entire MLB and NFL seasons.