Those looking to wager on athletics now have a Southwest Washington option as ilani introduced sports betting last month.
On Sunday, the casino had a grand opening ceremony to welcome the new offering at its newest restaurant, The Stadium Bar & Grill. With former NFL players making an appearance, the event showed off ilani’s hub for wagering on sports. The space features a restaurant with “elevated” stadium fare and an adjoining betting lounge.
The highlight of the day’s special events was a question and answer session with former NFL quarterback and Washington State University alum Drew Bledsoe and NFL Hall of Fame offensive tackle and former career-long Seahawk Walter Jones. Moderated by sportscaster Neil Everett, the football veterans talked about what they have seen this season before the kickoff of the Seahawks’ win against the Arizona Cardinals.
It was Jones’ first visit to ilani, who posed for pictures with fans ahead of the question and answer session. The open layout of The Stadium and ilani stuck out to Jones in particular.
“I’m looking forward to coming back and enjoying it. I’m definitely going to go home and tell my friends about it and make a weekend out of it,” Jones said.
Being able to offer sports betting at ilani “has been a long time coming,” Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager, said. Fox-LaRose pointed to the 68-by-14-foot video wall, touted as the largest in the region, as the centerpiece to The Stadium.
The wall is integrated with a smartphone application that allows patrons to listen to their game of choice, which plays on the video wall. Those who want to make wagers can walk over to place their bets at a spot adjacent to the restaurant, which allows people to place bets without taking a seat to dine at the restaurant or at the bar.
Bringing sports betting to Washington was a coordinated effort among the state’s 29 tribes, Fox-LaRose said. In 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill that allows sports betting at tribal casinos. A year later, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe was one of a number of tribes to receive federal approval, clearing the way for its implementation.
“I really found it to be a very collaborative experience, focused on being responsible and making sure we’re keeping people safe,” Fox-LaRose said.
Sports betting had a soft launch in late October to make sure ilani’s systems were ready to handle the betting. Each state that allows sports betting has their own rules on what’s allowed, ilani sportsbook manager Hugh Aufill said.
Though the event was specifically NFL-themed, patrons will have the opportunity to bet on a variety of sports. Aufill noted the NCAA basketball season is about to start, and NBA and NHL games are also options.
“Even if you’re not a sports fan, you come sit here on a Saturday or a Sunday. The vibe just gets so good, and when everybody just jumps up and cheers, it gets crazy,” Aufill said.
Leadership of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe was present at the grand opening, which included general council chair Patty Kinswa-Gaiser. Kinswa-Gaiser noted the revenues from the betting will help fund programs for tribal members and will aid the tribe’s continual community support.
Kinswa-Gaiser, who has been a Seahawks fan since their founding in the 1970s, was decked out in the team’s gear. She noted the effort it took to get sports betting up and running.
“It’s taken a lot of work for this ilani team to get this done,” Kinswa-Gaiser said.