A major puzzle piece in the Arizona betting apps scene was solved Wednesday, when the Arizona Coyotes’ announced their operating partner.
The NHL team, which is owned by businessman Alex Meruelo, announced it would partner with one of the owner’s other ventures —SAHARA Las Vegas — on a mobile sports betting application called SaharaBets.
The application launches in Arizona on Jan. 12, giving Coyotes fans a chance to place NHL bets on a site backed by their favorite team.
SaharaBets will be the seventh of the eight mobile sportsbook sites partnered with professional sports teams to launch in Arizona. The only other professional sports team yet to launch its application is the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, which is partnered with Bally’s Arizona.
BetArizona.com recently chatted with SaharaBets President Andrew Patterson about the company’s partnership with the Coyotes and more.
Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
BetArizona.com: What inspired SAHARA Las Vegas to link up with the Coyotes?
Andrew Patterson: SaharaBets was originated by the founder Alex Meruelo. And Alex owns the SAHARA Las Vegas and the Sierra Resort in Reno.
He's the majority owner of the Arizona Coyotes. And it was kind of out of his looking at the market and the industry and marrying the assets. We will bring the fun of Las Vegas and sports betting to the Arizona Coyotes fans.
BetArizona.com: What’s the plan for the platform going forward? Is the SaharaBets platform an Arizona only deal, or will it be offered in other states?
Patterson: (SaharaBets’) focus today is solely on Arizona. That's where, with our relationship with the Arizona Coyotes, and — as a Las Vegas-based company — our proximity to Arizona, it is focused on Arizona and the market, right out of the gate.
I believe (Arizona’s) the fifth largest (sports betting) market in the United States in terms of handle, based off September and October reporting.
So, it’s a great opportunity in front of us and we’re focused on Arizona. And, long term, where we go, how we maneuver, is still to be determined.
BetArizona.com: Take me through the relationship between SAHARA Las Vegas, SaharaBets, William Hill, Caesars, etc.
Patterson: So, Sahara is owned by Alex Meruelo, and Meruelo Gaming, which also owns SAHARA Las Vegas. William Hill is the operator at SAHARA Las Vegas. And our focus is on Arizona at this time.
So, as we expand and what we look at, like I mentioned, it’s still kind of to be determined. William Hill does a great job here at SAHARA Las Vegas.
There hasn't been a lot of change in the operation since William Hill was acquired by Caesars.
When you look at the market and consumer behavior, and then looking at the assets that Meruelo Group and Meruelo Gaming have, I think, when you look at it and analyze it, you would want to be able to engage your customers in as many ways as possible.
And so, SaharaBets through sports betting initially and through the mobile app, we'll be able to give the Arizona Coyotes fans opportunities to engage with their team in a unique way. And so, it really is about moving assets into the digital space and bringing the entities together.
BetArizona.com: Why did SAHARA decide to jump into the Arizona sports marketplace now?
Patterson: We've seen that the Arizona market’s highly competitive, with great results. Obviously, the bigger brands, the national brands have succeeded and have pushed the market thus far.
I believe DraftKings was (number) one, FanDuel was two, that MGM was No. 3, Caesars No. 4, or somewhere in that order.
So, it is the national brands taking it. And where does SaharaBets fit in? Like I said, we are focused on experiences outside of the sports betting app. We will offer very competitive sports betting offers, in terms of markets and pricing.
But we really look to engage fans in unique ways within the app that then translate over outside of the app, which differentiates ourselves in the marketplace.
BetArizona.com: What would you tell people about the potential of the Arizona sports betting market and SaharaBets’ place in it?
Patterson: Arizona, again, it's in its first few months of (offering sports betting), but the reports and the results kind of speak for themselves.
It’s a population that has shown the propensity to wager on sporting events — some of that might be driven from the competitive nature and the bonusing that's been taking place in the market.
We all saw in September that the state only collected revenue off the retail facilities because bonusing and promotional dollars were able to be deducted, which is different than the state of Nevada. But that appetite is there, and we are excited to enter the market.
BetArizona.com: Does SaharaBets have any plans for a retail facility in Arizona at some point?
Patterson: Where we go in terms of retail in the future is still to be determined. I think as we look to expand the footprint in as many ways as possible, I think retail is in discussions, but it's nothing that has been determined at this time.
BetArizona.com: What would you tell people about SaharaBet’s feelings about opening operations this month?
Patterson: We are very, very excited to enter the marketplace. We will compete in different ways. We will speak to a customer that is looking for unique experiences and unique opportunities, outside of a traditional sports betting app.
We don't see bonusing at the same level as other operators. In terms of cash flow, we will compete on price and will compete on offering experience within the app and the unique experiences outside the app.