Hard Rock Digital took a measured approach to launching its Arizona mobile sportsbook app this month, going live before a brick-and-mortar casino had been built and without giving bettors access to a desktop version, but the company plans on adding both of those options in the near future. Hard Rock launched its app April 8.
Matt Primeaux, the executive managing director of Hard Rock Digital, told Sports Handle the company is discussing retail casino locations and timing with its Arizona partner Navajo Nation Gaming, and it will have a desktop version of its app available sometime this year.
“Our product will be the best in the market, and with that driving desire, we first allocated all of our attention to the more heavily used mobile app,” Primeaux said. “As we’ve scaled our development teams, we’re taking that same love and attention to our desktop web product and aim to release it later this year.”
Looking to differentiate with technology
Hard Rock’s step-by-step strategy in Arizona is in keeping with the company’s nationwide vision as a lifestyle and entertainment brand, trying to set itself apart from larger operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Hard Rock is live in Iowa, New Jersey and Arizona as it waits for the federal courts to decide the fate of regulated sports gambling in Florida, where Hard Rock is headquartered under its ownership by the Seminole Tribe.
Primeaux, who formerly worked at FOX Bet, said Hard Rock hired a marketing team that poached talent from companies such as Twitch, PlayStation, and Facebook and also assembled a data-science team to try to add personalization that other operators aren’t offering. He also pointed to Hard Rock’s ownership of its own tech pipeline as a potential edge for the company.
“We’re rather critical of the current sports betting landscape in the U.S. Either for lack of ingenuity or inability to differentiate, we look across the market and just see sameness,” Primeaux said. “We aren’t interested in the purely transactional nature of our industry. And we’re certainly not interested in just buying vanity market share numbers at irrational prices. We want to build staying power.”
Hard Rock did not seek one of the nine mobile sportsbook licenses awarded in New York, the largest legal market in the nation. Many companies, particularly Caesars, offered massive promotions in New York in an effort to grab early market share, and they took heavy losses in the early weeks after their January launch before scaling back marketing and promotional spending. New York has proven to be a massive sports betting market, with $4.7 billion in handle since the Jan. 8 launch, but many experts have considered profitability difficult given the state’s 51% tax rate for operators.
Florida still a critical piece
Florida, with a population exceeding 21 million, remains a crucial piece for Hard Rock, which was live there with its digital sportsbook late last year before shutting down due to a court order that is under appeal. With the holdup in the courts, Florida isn’t expected to have legal mobile sports gambling for months, if not years.
“Hard Rock Sportsbook was extremely popular during our operations in Florida, and we’re appreciative of the overwhelming support and positive feedback we continue to receive from customers throughout the state,” Primeaux said. “Our partners at the Seminole Tribe of Florida are confident in the merits of the case, which has the support of both the federal government and the state of Florida, and we look forward to the appellate court considering the matter.”
Hard Rock’s Seminole ownership made its partnership with the Navajo Nation a natural pairing in Arizona, where skins were awarded to both tribal entities and pro sports teams. The Navajo Nation owns and operates the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort in Flagstaff. Arizona law gives the Navajos the opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar casino if they choose. Primeaux said Hard Rock is discussing sites and construction timetables with the Navajo Nation for potential future projects.
“We are excited to begin opening new retail locations at Hard Rock Casinos and other venues across the country to show off the kiosk, teller, and mobile teller solutions created by our team,” he said.