By Rick Bannan / For The Chronicle
Those looking to bet on athletics now have an option in southwest Washington since ilani launched sportsbook last month.
On Sunday, the casino had a grand opening ceremony to welcome the new offering at its newest restaurant, The Stadium Bar & Grill. Featuring performances by former NFL players, the event showcased ilani’s sports betting hub. The space features a restaurant with “fine” stadium fare and an adjacent betting lounge.
The highlight of the day’s special events was a question-and-answer session featuring former NFL quarterback and former Washington State University graduate Drew Bledsoe and NFL Hall of Fame offensive tackle and former career-long retired Seahawk had, Walter Jones. Hosted by sportscaster Neil Everett, the football veterans talked about what they’ve seen this season ahead of the Seahawks’ kick-off against the Arizona Cardinals.
It was Jones’ first visit to Ilani, who posed for photos with fans before the Q&A session. Jones was particularly struck by the open layout of The Stadium and ilani.
“I look forward to coming back and enjoying it. I’m definitely going to go home and tell my friends and make it a weekend,” Jones said.
Being able to offer sports betting at ilani “has been a long time coming,” said Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager. Fox-LaRose pointed to the 68-by-14-foot video wall, touted as the largest in the region, as the centerpiece of the stadium.
The wall is integrated with a smartphone application that allows customers to listen to the game of their choice played on the video wall. Those wishing to place bets can walk over to place their bets at a spot adjacent to the restaurant, allowing people to place bets without dining at the restaurant or bar.
Bringing sports betting to Washington was a coordinated effort by the state’s 29 tribes, Fox-LaRose said. In 2020, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation allowing sports betting at tribal casinos. A year later, the Cowlitz Indian tribe was one of several tribes to receive federal approval and pave the way for its implementation.
“I really found it to be a very collaborative experience that focused on being accountable and making sure we were keeping people safe,” Fox-LaRose said.
Sportsbook got off to a soft start at the end of October to ensure ilani’s systems were ready to process bets. Each state that allows sports betting has its own set of rules about what’s allowed, said Ilani Sportsbook manager Hugh Aufill.
Although the event was specifically geared towards the NFL theme, guests will have the opportunity to bet on a variety of sports. Aufill noted that the NCAA basketball season is about to begin and NBA and NHL games are options as well.
“Even if you’re not a sports fan, you sit here on Saturdays or Sundays. The atmosphere just gets so good and when everyone just jumps up and cheers, it gets crazy,” said Aufill.
Cowlitz Indian Tribe leadership was present at the grand opening, which included General Council Chairwoman Patty Kinswa-Gaiser. Kinswa-Gaiser noted that proceeds from the bets will help fund programs for tribal members and support the tribe’s ongoing community support.
Kinswa-Gaiser, who has been a Seahawks fan since the Seahawks’ inception 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 took a lot of work for this ilani team to achieve this,” said Kinswa-Gaiser.