Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprises has announced a partnership in Arizona to leverage the mobile gaming platform of Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Digital brand.
The partnership enables Navajo Nation Gaming to open events wagering in the state of Arizona via the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app, with plans to expand the digital offerings in “social” or free-to-play gaming on Hard Rock Digital’s platform.
The 10-year agreement gives Navajo Nation Gaming access to a new business and pairs the enterprise with an experienced Native American-owned operator, which ensured that the tribe could put sovereignty and tribal well-being at the forefront of its mission, interim CEO Brian Parrish told Tribal Business News.
“We wanted to find a Native American partner. They were looking for partnerships in Indian Country itself to expand this business,” Parrish said. “They had an excellent product, a wonderful strategy, and we thought our brands fit together nicely.”
As the online arm of the Seminole Tribe’s casino and hospitality brand, Hard Rock Digital currently operates mobile sportsbooks in Iowa and New Jersey, as well as a non-wager gaming platform. (Thursday’s announcement also follows the tribe’s acquisition of a temporary mobile sportsbook license in Indiana, per a report in an industry trade publication.)
Parrish said the two companies were in “the final stages” of internally auditing their mobile event wagering product, though he couldn’t yet provide an exact date for launch.
“We’re very excited for this partnership,” Parrish said. “The crossover between our brands should be very high. The mobile sports betting application enables us to use a new and broader audience, and complements well with our existing brick-and-mortar operations.”
Marlon Goldstein, executive managing director and CEO for Hard Rock Digital, said in a statement that the brand was excited to combine efforts with Navajo Nation Gaming.
“We’re thrilled to partner with the NNGE to provide Arizona sports bettors with a fun and engaging gameday experience through the Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile app,” Goldstein stated. “The Hard Rock brand is known worldwide for legendary hospitality and entertainment, and we’re excited to deliver those experiences to Arizonans digitally with unrivaled mobile sports betting.”
An exploding market
Navajo Gaming’s move into the mobile betting market comes on the heels of explosive growth in the industry, both in terms of mobile sportsbooks/event wagering and social, free-to-play games.
A report from trade publication PlayAZ notes that Arizona’s online sports betting market grew to $1 billion in just over three months, the fastest rate in U.S. history. The report notes that more than 98 percent of Arizona’s sports betting stemmed from online bets from November of last year onward.
“Arizona is in a remarkable position for such a young market,” Eric Ramsey, an analyst for PlayUSA Network, said in the report. “Local bettors have responded enthusiastically, obviously, giving the state’s sportsbooks an impressive start. And operators have clearly placed a lot of emphasis on the state, considering the promotional spend so far.”
Arizona began licensing online sportsbooks in September, as Tribal Business News previously reported. Navajo Gaming was one of 10 tribal enterprises awarded a license to offer online betting.
Doing due diligence
Following the advent of COVID-19, Navajo Gaming closed down its operation for more than a year, reopening in March 2021 at half capacity. The gaming enterprise spent much of the last year recovering from the closure, raising vaccination rates and building back capacity.
A move into online gaming represented the latest step in that recovery, Parrish said.
“We’re looking to create new jobs and also economic development for the Navajo Nation, so there’s interdependence, especially with neighboring communities we cater to,” Parrish said. “Part of the roll out is another step in that direction. (We’re being) deliberate, very focused on tying all of this together, and being patient given the current health threats that are out there.”
In addition to carefully rebuilding the operation, Navajo Nation Gaming and Hard Rock Digital wanted to make “data driven decisions” rather than racing to be first to market, Parrish added.
“We believe in this case, with the proliferation of mobile and online wagering, there really isn’t a benefit to being first to market,” Parrish said. “There’s a lot of excessive spending trying to capture patron wagering. There’s so much aggressive advertising and it delays the natural maturation of the market.”
Navajo Nation Gaming’s market research indicated that to garner consistent, repeat consumers, capturing early adopters mattered less as opposed to building a “superior product” for a returning, satisfied customer base, Parrish said.
“Hard Rock and NNGE have done our market research to understand the behaviors and needs of sports betting patrons. They’re looking for specifics, they’re looking for good value,” Parrish said. “We wanted to make the market when it made good sense, when we had our value proposition clear, and when we’ve made sure we’re providing specific content tailored to the needs and wants of our patrons.”
That’s why it was important to partner with the likes of Hard Rock Digital, which Parrish called “experienced in their field.”
“We’re not software developers, and our business is Class III gaming, creating an outstanding service experience for our patrons, and sharing our culture in a way that’s very respectful,” Parrish said. “We felt that (building a mobile gaming platform) wasn’t going to be something that we could do in a cost-effective and timely manner. We wanted to concentrate on what we did best.”
While the partnership with Hard Rock Digital will bring Navajo Gaming into the Arizona virtual event betting marketplace, Parrish said the effort also should help drive traffic to the tribe’s bricks-and-mortar operations in both Arizona and New Mexico.
The physical locations in both states also have access to in-person sportsbooks, Parrish noted.
“Looking down the road a little bit … we see social gaming as a great opportunity to introduce people to who we are, as well as Hard Rock and Hard Rock Digital. What we do is cross-market some of those social games with visiting our properties,” Parrish said. “The broader online mobile event wagering enables us to reach much broader demographics.”
The tribe also aims to leverage the expanded online platform to promote other Navajo businesses. Parrish cited the potential to advertise Navajo Fizz Craft Soda, or possible affiliations with tribal ranchers for Navajo beef.
“There’s a couple of different market-affiliate relationships, and those all tie back to Navajo culture that we think will be interesting and compelling. We think those are going to introduce tourism to the Navajo Nation, as well as introducing people to us electronically,” Parrish said. “We’re going to continue to build on that communication and find content that our patrons and users are interested in.”
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