When the Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City, Oregon opened its sportsbook on August 27, it became the only place on the state’s West Coast where bettors can place a sports wager:. But that monopoly will within a few weeks as the Oregon State Lottery jumps into the game.
The lottery and the casino took separate roads to a common destination. Chinook Winds, operated by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, got there first because it was easier to offer sports betting in a brick-and-mortar casino than to make sports betting available to consumers all over the state both on mobile platforms and eventually from kiosks at retail locations.
Last week, in an exclusive interview with GGB News, Will Robertson, Chinook Winds director of casino operations, talked about the sportsbook’s first day. Starting at 9 a.m., “We had a decent stream of business,” he said. “We anticipate the lines being much longer this Saturday with college week. This morning we had a decent crowd—steady business all day and steady business as we speak.”
Oregon became the second state with Indian gaming (after New Mexico) to take a sports bet without a formal act of the legislature. When Congress approved the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) OF 1992, Oregon was one of four states whose existing sports betting was grandfathered. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 says any form of gaming allowed by a state is also allowed for any federally recognized tribe within that state. Oregon offered a parlay game called Sports Action through the state lottery. It was discontinued voluntarily by the state in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA which threatened to not hold tournament games in Oregon .
Chinook Winds overlooks the beach, with panoramic views of the pounding Pacific surf. So players will be able to watch sporting events on four large screen TV’s in the Rogue River Steak House, “with a beautiful ocean view,” said Robertson. The 600-square foot lounge itself is “a small room with three teller windows and one 24-hour kiosk.” It has fifteen televisions and seats about twenty patrons. The teller windows are open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, and the kiosk operates 24/7.
“Basically anything you see in Vegas, you’ll see here. Futures. You name it, we have it,” said Robertson. That includes college NCAA, which the lottery will not take bets on, or any other college games for that matter.
Lincoln is a town of about 10,000 people, a two-hour drive from Portland. So it is somewhat limited in how many bets it will be able to take compared to the Oregon Lottery.
Robertson had no experience in sports betting. “When it was time to add sportsbook, I had to get some education,” he said—which was one of the reasons the tribe ended up choosing pick Las Vegas Dissemination Co. as technology provider. Robertson told GGB, “They were very hands-on. Their business model said how we wanted to operate. They’ve been extremely helpful. They were very forthcoming even before they were selected.” The company also offered off-track betting options that Chinook Winds might be able to choose down the road. “If we do choose to do that, it would be a seamless transition,” he said.
Asked if he expected a bump in business from being the only casino on the West Coast to offer sports betting, Robertson said, “Absolutely! We’re seeing it today. I recognized a couple of people, but some are new to us.”
Once things settle down, Robertson anticipates sports betting will be more of an amenity than a moneymaker. “Right now, it’s a reason for someone to make a trip to the coast. At some point it will level out and just be an amenity.”
When the Oregon Lottery unveils its “Oregon Lottery Scorecard,” it will enable bettors to wager from anywhere in the state using a mobile device. Phase II will introduce sports betting to brick-and-mortar retail operations through kiosks. Online sports betting is by far the most popular betting option in other states that have legalized sportsbooks. In New Jersey, for example, it accounts for 85 percent of the total.
Talking to GGB News, Oregon State Lottery spokesman Matt Shelby said the Oregon Lottery Scorecard will go live “soon. Right now we’re getting close. We hope to launch the mobile app soon. We have a mobile-based sports betting platform that we’re testing. What we find will drive the actual launch date.”
The lottery is testing two things: the mobile sportsbook and the lottery’s first e-commerce platform, which will allow for creating player accounts. “We want to make sure the sports betting works as it should, but that the player account syncs with the mobile sports book and the current claims and payment system.”
Shelby explained, “Up until this time, all of our play has been anonymous through retailers. If they win a large enough amount, they come to our office and get paid. For smaller amounts, they’re paid directedly at the retailer. What we’re doing is shifting from anonymous to known play.”
Players “are giving us their information on the front end,” Shelby said. Anonymous sales will still be used by lottery retailers. “But right now the player account will be required to place sports wagers,” he said.
The online rollout will be Phase I, said Shelby. “As soon as we get this mobile app rolled out, we’ll turn to our existing retailer network. Not everyone is going to want to download the app. Some will want to go into a brick-and-mortar retailer. We’ll place kiosks at retailers.”
Lottery officials don’t know yet how many retailers will participate, but a pilot program in early 2020 will target at least a few hundred. “The criteria need to be worked out,” said Shelby. “We’re not going to do a traditional beta; we’re doing a whole number of tests right now in a test environment and then when we’ll work to a live production environment. We’ll do additional testing with Oregon State Police and a third-party vendor.
“By the time we roll it out, we’ll know that the system is secure and a good user experience. What we’ll learn real soon is how to improve the user experience.”
The beauty of an app, he said, “is that you can release new versions. We need to know that the security is there and the financial transactions move as they’re supposed to. We don’t want to iterate with that in the wild, so to speak.”
The lottery is working with SBTech, a European-based provider, which also provides sports betting technology for New Jersey and Churchill Downs. “We’re their first state lottery and that was by design,” said Shelby. “We wanted to go with a vendor that could provide off the shelf.”
SBTech’s selection was controversial, especially after a vendor that wasn’t chosen accused SBTech of providing sports betting to nations where it’s illegal. The lottery investigated those claims and found nothing.
“It’s now pretty quiet on that front,” said Shelby. “The gaming industry is competitive. There are vendors who are searching for a leg up on their competition and we got wrapped up in that.”
Meanwhile, “People in Oregon are excited about sports betting coming back. They’re anxious to open an account and place a wager.”
Somewhat less excited about sports betting is Oregon state Senator Chuck Riley, who earlier this year sponsored a bill that would have prevented the lottery from offering sports betting. In an email to GGB News, Riley commented, “The point was not about sports betting but was a concern about online betting. Not only because it can be hacked, but the concern for children being able to play, and the increase in gambling problems because of the ease of use.”
Riley is concerned that the lottery introduced sports betting without any guidance from the legislature. “I do believe that the legislature has an oversight responsibility,” he wrote.
Asked whether he thinks the state will make enough money to justify the added expense of the rollout, Riley said, “We have been assured that it will, but no one knows for sure.”