Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment’s Chief Operating Officer, Libby Francisco, sat down with Tribal Gaming & Hospitality Magazine to discuss their recent partnership with Kambi to bring sports betting to the state of Arizona.
In the beginning of November, Desert Diamond Casinos, an enterprise of the Tohono O’odham Nation, signed a long-term partnership with sportsbook operator, Kambi, to provide its online and on-property sportsbook to Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment, which operates casino properties in the state of Arizona.
Tohono O’odham Nation is one of 10 Arizona Indian tribes, and the largest in the Grand Canyon State. In August, Desert Diamond was awarded a license from the Arizona Department of Gaming to offer sports wagering in the state.
The multi-channel agreement sees Kambi provide its full suite of high-performance sports betting technology, which was initially rolled out on-property in the beginning of December across their West Valley, Sahuarita, and Tucson, Arizona properties.
The first phase includes six betting kiosks at the Sahuarita location and eight at the West Valley sportsbook. Sports wagering operations will continue to grow at the Tucson, Sahuarita, and West Valley locations as more kiosks and live over-the-counter services are added. An online sportsbook will also follow under the newly created entity of Desert Diamond Mobile LLC.
“We are very proud to partner with Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment, a deal which further strengthens Kambi’s strong relationship with tribal casino operators,” said Kristian Nylén, Kambi’s CEO.
“Desert Diamond Casinos is renowned for offering world-class gaming and entertainment experiences and complements Kambi’s strategy to partner with market leaders. We look forward to working with them closely to deliver high-quality and exciting sports betting experiences to both its on-property patrons and online customers in the state of Arizona.”
Chief Executive Officer of Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment went on to add, ““We are delighted to sign this multi-year agreement with Kambi, which has a proven track record in sportsbook provision across the globe. This exciting partnership provides Desert Diamond with the ability to leverage its long standing, well-regarded brand to provide our guests with a leading sports betting product across multiple channels.”
Desert Diamond made things official with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at their Sahuarita location, which included six new automated sports betting kiosks, located adjacent to Desert Diamonds sports bar allowing fans to keep an eye on every game and place bets at any time.
TG&H On Air with Desert Diamond Casinos and Entertainment
Sports Betting, Table Games and Support through COVID
View the interview here or read the edited transcript:
Hey everyone. Chris Faria here, executive editor, Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Magazine. Today we have a special edition of TG and H On Air with Libby Francisco, Chief Operating Officer at Desert Diamond Casinos and Entertainment. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Libby: Thank you for having me on.
Chris: Oh, we have so much to cover. First I wanted to catch up with you as it’s been months since we’ve had you on air and then discuss the first phase of your new sports book. Does that sound good to you?
Libby: Sounds excellent.
Chris: All right. When you spoke with us over a year ago, you shared your extensive COVID protocols to protect your team and your guests. It’s been a long 12 months. How is your team doing today?
Libby: They are doing excellent. We have some amazing team members and from day one, they’ve been completely on board about the purpose, the reason for all of us being safe, not only at work, but also at home; taking care of their own families while we took care of our business families. So they’ve been with us every step of the way. You know, COVID, the pandemic has been overwhelming to so many people. And, what we try to do is break it down for each of them each day, about why it’s important that taking care of ourselves and taking care of our family has, has been a very strong message.
Chris: Every region in the United States is experiencing something a little bit different. What what are the current challenge that you are facing right now in Arizona and in your tribe, as far as workforce issues, what are your players doing, what’s happening?
Libby: The challenges right now would continue to be COVID. Everyone thought we would be beyond this point and have moved on and yet we continue. The pandemic continues to linger and grow, decline and grow again. So that has been extremely frustrating. And I know that is something that our team members let us know that it’s hard to deal with. But overall, they’ve doing a great job of managing it as a part of their business life. In terms of more challenges … absolutely, we want to get to a point where we’re back at 24/ 7, and we’ve started that process the end of the year in 2021.
We’ve had some great success there with our guests, very much appreciating that direction and letting us know. That’s meant hiring and filling positions that may have become vacant, filling positions that we did not fill after attrition. Yet it’s a time right now across the country and even the world where people are choosing that they don’t need to work right now. So we’re all fighting to hire those same people, not just for gaming, but in all business areas of the workforce. We are finding that to be very challenging. However, on the other hand, we’re being very creative about how we go about finding the people who are looking for us and consider ourselves to be a very special place to work with our gaming enterprise with our four properties. What can we do is show team members coming in the door how and why we can be their employer of choice.
Chris: What are a couple of those things, those creative ways, that you are utilizing to get folks as part of your family?
Libby: Very important is what we talk about and then they come in and experience it. It’s how they become a member of our team. They become someone that we care about other than them clocking in and clocking out on time. We express through the benefits that they are eligible for, benefits that we’ve reinstated, since the pandemic; tuition reimbursement benefit to team members that is one example. And then our benefits overall are always top of the line, top notch. We have programs that allow them to be more flexible with their work schedule. We have programs that allow tribal team members to work in other areas that they may have an interest in, maybe they’re not sure that they want to do that job yet, but we do. We allow departments to exchange team members in order for them to get that experience. So it’s about thinking outside the box in order to reach that one person, one at a time, to help them to help them understand why, this is where they should be.
Chris: Well, it sounds like we need to do another interview on that and share all those cool things that you’re doing. I know you have so many positive things going on for your business. Let’s talk about your new sportsbook that you launched during the beginning of December. How’s it going? What are your guests telling you?
Libby: We are so excited. Yes, on December 2nd, we had a simultaneous ribbon cutting; one at our southeast property in Southern Arizona and the other one at the same time at our west valley property in the west valley of Phoenix. And the two are over 130 miles apart, but it went off without a hitch. We had some great fanfare, what I call a soft launch. And the feedback that we’ve received from our guests has been tremendous. Through our research looking into sports betting, we’re looking for a younger demographic. So we’re looking for ways, an environment for them that speaks to that younger demographic.
The kiosks are very easy to use. So younger people like that, they want to be able to walk up and make a bet off of the kiosk and walk away with their betting ticket with no hassle. So that’s very encouraging and the response has been good. While we had a sports book in Southern Arizona and a sport book in west valley, we also, had a new kiosk go up at our Tucson property. So all three of our class three properties were offering the kiosk on day one of December 2nd.
Chris: How is your marketing team blending these new players with your existing players and into your entire operation?
Libby: Great question. And that, you know, it’s so funny because while there were so many questions and so many decisions that needed to be made to get to this point, marketing was a challenge. I mean, our marketing teams are amazing. They’re fabulous at what they do and yet sport betting was new to them. They have continued, looking at a younger demographic, looking at a new player to us, purposely looking for a new player to us … not necessarily always marketing to a slot player or a poker player, but to someone new. How do we get their attention about coming into our property to make a bet? And so it’s been a variety of marketing ideas. It’s been a variety of, let’s try this, let’s try that, but they continue to do it all in the same way that they do all our other marketing, through social media, through our billboards, through the news and, radio and TV. it’s still fairly new. So right now they’re, they’re trying, different avenues of mark of marketing and we’re all learning a lot.
Chris: It will be interesting when we talk, a year from now, to look at the data and see, how many, new players stayed for the sports betting and how many really discovered all gaming within your property. So you started talking about all the decisions that the marketing team has had to make and starting off by selecting a partner and you chose Kambi. Can you tell us about a little bit about this process? I know it’s such a learning curve, and we’d love to share with our audience who are just starting their journey. Give them some advice on what you’ve learned from Kambi.
Libby: We have learned so much about the process. So, if I could even, back up a little bit about the year. So over the last fiscal year, I was acting CEO of our four properties, four properties making up our enterprise. During that time, there were compact amendments that made significant amendments to Arizona tribes. And we were so fortunate to have been able to acquire the ability to add additional slot machines to our floors. At three properties, we took advantage of that, due to our facility license. Then we took advantage also of the new table game offerings that were available, that’s craps, roulette, and Baccarat, and we have all of those operating during that time of the new gaming amendments.
And then the big one, was being able to offer sports betting. And what we did was we started with lots of discussion about what our options were, lots of discussion about whether we go the route of a market access deal, or whether we basically do it on our own. And that’s the route we took. There were many, many smart people all involved in all of this. Most of the people internally did not have that experience. It truly was a challenge. And, we went through that route. We interviewed seven vendors that we were interested in. We interviewed them one time, we brought some back a second time and ultimately, Kambi checked all the boxes.
We all felt very strongly about going in that direction. And quite honestly, we did not even still understand how much work that was going to entail, but we knew what we wanted. We knew the effort of that. We wanted to make it our own. It was going to be our own sport book and the benefits of getting to retain our own database and promoting and rewarding our players and having players see that that sport book was coming from Desert Diamond. That it was a desert diamond name. So that all was very important. And then as we went from there, it was one thing at a time. I mean, there were obviously contracts to be done negotiations to be made, equipment decisions that needed to be worked through; lots of process and procedures and as always, internal controls. It, it was a lot!
Chris: So, in retrospect, after all this time and investment and decision are there are a couple things that you could would recommend even before you start, is there is a one thing before you really recommend that other tribes think about?
Libby: Yes. I think that what’s very important is what we did, we were in the minority. We chose not to do a market access deal. We understood that there would be more work for us, but answer your question is that other tribes, every tribe should really consider what’s best for their property, or what’s best for their enterprises. If they have multiple properties, how would this benefit one property to property, three properties? What are they looking for by offering sport betting? What will sports betting bring? What do they expect sport betting to bring to their guests and how do they believe that sport betting will produce even more guests or new guests into their business. So it’s really looking at what expectations you have of what sports betting itself will bring to your business.
Chris: If I make you say sports betting one more time, I don’t think you’ll be able to do it.
Libby: I’m told I say it in my sleep.
Chris: Well, what an incredible story with the new compact, everything you have accomplished in this challenging year. Bravo, and it’s so great to hear from you and thank you as always for being so candid with us and laughing with me.
Libby: We do want to make sure that we thank our partner. The partnership we had with the Kambi team, they made it easy to work with them. They really, truly were. They were at the top of our list when we selected them.
Chris: Well, that, that is great to know. Libby, thank you so much for joining us today. I can’t wait to see you again in person. Hopefully that will be at in April, in Anaheim, perhaps? Thank you for being with us and stay safe stay well.
Libby: Thank you for the interview time and you have a great day, you too,