For decades, the UK-based Betfred Group did not stray far from its home base in Britain where the English bookmaker has populated street corners with more than 1,500 betting shops nationwide.
But in 2019, Betfred made a leap of faith with the opening of a betting shop in Spain – its first sportsbook operation outside the UK. Now, after months of preparations, Betfred is coming to America.
On Thursday, Betfred USA Sports will launch in Iowa with the opening of a bricks-and-mortar sportsbook at Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort in Larchwood. The opening of the 3,500 square foot sportsbook inside the Northwestern Iowa casino will mark Betfred’s foray into the nascent U.S. sports betting market.
Betfred worked assiduously to open the sportsbook property in time for this weekend’s Super Bowl, the largest single event on the sports betting industry’s calendar. Over the next several weeks, Betfred intends to roll out an online/mobile platform across the state.
Betfred to open full sportsbook at Iowa's Grand Falls Casino https://t.co/5WqZ4liQmJ
— U.S. Integrity® (@USintegrity) January 27, 2020
“Everything we’re doing here comes with the history of the U.K. entity, because that’s a really powerful history as your backbone,” Betfred USA Sports Chief Operating Officer Bryan Bennett told Hawkeye Bets. “But it’s also being done with a very specific U.S. specific flavor.”
“Betfred has both channels, but retail is in our blood from all the betting shops in the UK,” he added.
Betfred, along with its competitors throughout the state, must deal with some unfavorable registration requirements for the remainder of the year. Per Iowa gaming law, customers will be required to sign up for mobile betting accounts inside a land-based casino until next January when the restriction is removed.
The regulations, at first, could drive foot traffic to Grand Falls Casino, which is located within walking distance from the South Dakota border. The vast majority of Grand Falls’ traffic will come from Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota. The sportsbook is also a close drive for Minnesota residents along the southern border, providing the casino with another untapped market.
The Grand Falls sportsbook contains more than 75 screens, 10 recliners, nearly two dozen lounging chairs and two reservable VIP areas. In addition, the sportsbook includes a full bar and food service for customers.
“It’s a sportsbook that you will find in Las Vegas,” said Damon John, director of marketing at Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort. “You will be hard pressed to find a sportsbook this comprehensive and nice anywhere in the region.”
For many Iowa residents, Betfred will be their most convenient option to place a sports wager inside a casino environment. One of its top competitors, a Rush Street/DraftKings powered book at Wild Rose Casino & Resorts in Emmetsburg, is located about two hours Southeast. Another resort, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City, is about 90 minutes due south.
“In terms of sports betting, we’re the only game in town,” Bennett said.
From a mobile perspective, Iowa’s online handle of $111.8 mm in 2019 represented about 55% of the amount wagered at legal sportsbooks across the state. For the month of December, bettors wagered $19.2 mm at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, including $17.6 mm through a mobile betting app operated by William Hill US.
Mobile betting should be available for Grand Falls bettors in time for March Madness. Prior to the start of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls will host the Summit League Basketball Championships. Betfred is working with the casino to design some promotions around the event.
“We anticipate the betting volumes of that weekend to be pretty heavy,” Bennett said.
As of Jan. 29, South Dakota State led the Summit Conference with a 6-2 record, a half-game ahead of rival North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits also put forth respectable efforts in close losses to Arizona and Indiana. At the same time, several Division I schools in Iowa are in position to earn a spot in the Big Dance. Iowa (15-5, 6-3 Big Ten) has won five straight games and is ranked No. 18 in this week’s AP/Coaches Poll.
Northern Iowa, meanwhile, stands atop the Missouri Valley Conference with a 19-3 mark. The Panthers could emerge as a veritable sleeper come March. In 2010, Northern Iowa pulled off one of the biggest tournament upsets over the last 20 years when a team led by guard Ali Farokhmanesh stunned top-seed Kansas.
Back in 2010, Ali Farokhmanesh led Northern Iowa to a shocking victory over top-seeded Kansas. pic.twitter.com/Zh9VOILchD
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 6, 2019
For Super Bowl weekend, the sportsbook will be giving away two free tickets to this year’s Final Four. Any customer who places a bet in excess of $50 will be added to a drawing that will take place at halftime of the game.
Risk management issues
As Betfred enters the U.S. market, the company has developed a bespoke platform that will allow the sportsbook operator to make the transition from Europe seamlessly. Betfred’s sportsbook technology in Iowa will be powered by OptimaMGS, a sports betting and e-gaming platform and technology supplier. Optima also serves as the platform provider for Betfred’s sportsbook operations in Spain.
In October, Sportradar acquired Optima under a deal that enabled the technology supplier to become a “full-service B2B data, betting, trading and player management platform business,” according to a Sportradar press release.
At present, Betfred has a small trade and risk-management team in Las Vegas. The company is in the process of adding three UK-based traders to the desk. Betfred also plans to expand into the Colorado and Pennsylvania markets through deals with Saratoga Black Hawk in Colorado and Wind Creek Bethlehem in the Keystone State. While Betfred receives feeds from a variety of sources to manage its pre-game and in-play betting markets, the trading team has the ability to override odds and prices in certain jurisdictions.
For instance, if 95% of the moneyline wagers on Sunday’s Iowa-Illinois contest are placed on the Hawkeyes at Grand Falls, the trading desk can adjust the pricing based on the regional disparity. Ultimately, the company is trying to “inject Betfred’s DNA,” into its Vegas trading team, Bennett noted, as it targets four U.S. states for expansion this year.
“We’re trading for a U.S. market but we’re doing it with Betfred’s history of risk management and Betfred’s exposure to the platform we’re using,” he said. “I think it’s worked really well having that blended team.”
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