Jeramey Jannene

Potawatomi Says Opening Of Massive Sportsbook Is Turning Point For Casino

New facility has a 2,000-square-foot tv capable of playing 30 games at once.

By - May 3rd, 2024 12:03 pm
Potawatomi Hotel & Casino sportsbook grand opening. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino sportsbook grand opening. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

If you’re looking for a place to watch the next big sporting event, there might not be a better place than Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.

At least that’s what casino CEO Dominic Ortiz and the Forest County Potawatomi think about their new sportsbook. Backing up their case is a 2,000-square-foot television screen, larger than the average Milwaukee home, that can play up to 30 games at once. Also included are three tiers of seating for more than 200 people, a mezzanine level, a full bar with more than 24 taps and a full kitchen.

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino opened its new 6,500-square-foot sportsbook Friday. The central point is technically gambling on sports, through kiosks across the casino or ticket counters in the sportsbook, but the casino is selling an experience that it believes is unrivaled outside of Las Vegas.

“This point is the new age forward,” said Forest County Potawatomi Community chairman James Crawford, citing the casino’s origins as a bingo hall. “This is a closing out of the past.”

The sportsbook is a capstone in the $190 million makeover of the casino, 1721 W. Canal St., that has followed the approval of six new casinos in Illinois and the removal of a federal prohibition on sports betting.

“This is epic coast to coast,” said Oritz of the sportsbook and other improvements, like a Rock & Brews restaurant, high limit room and reopened poker room. “To me, it’s a reality of what we have worked so hard to deliver.”

“This is a tourist destination. You want to come see it. There is nothing like it in the industry I believe,” said Crawford of the sportsbook.

Crawford said there was long a belief in the Potawatomi community that a sportsbook would be difficult to operate successfully, but credited Ortiz with helping them see the positive revenue impact it could have. “If you do it right, you can make it work,” he said. He believes the casino has accomplished that.

“We are crossing lines that had not been pushed before. [Existing sportsbooks] were just old archaic retail sportsbooks built to come in for playoffs and March Madness,” said Ortiz of the most popular betting times. “Now this is a family affair with your friends and a place of gathering, and why not in the Menomonee Valley come and enjoy one of the greatest experiences in the country?”

Sportsbooks can be risky ventures for casinos. Unlike table games or slot machines, the casino must hold long-term bets on its books. Long-shot bets paying off in the gambler’s favor can impose large losses. The sportsbook is being operated in partnership with Kambi, an independent sportsbook operator. Sean Cullen is in charge of sports betting for the casino.

Crawford said that Potawatomi is pleased with how Ortiz has transformed the casino, including adding new dining options and hundreds of new slot machines.

“We knew what we wanted, but we didn’t exactly know how to get there. And that’s where we got this man, our CEO Dominic Ortiz,” said Crawford of the CEO that was hired in 2021. “He came in, he gave us a vision. I didn’t always understand the vision, I couldn’t pull it off the paper the way he could see it in his mind. But I tell you what, it didn’t disappoint did it? Look at this place.”

The casino opened a smaller, temporary sportsbook in March 2023. “This sportsbook’s been busy since the day we opened,” said Ortiz. “It’s just a big draw. And I now I think [guests] will stay and play and longer.”

A mezzanine level, off limits to the media as it was used for VIPs, also includes a recording booth. ESPN’s local affiliate is broadcasting from the booth all-day Friday, but Crawford and Ortiz said they hope the space is also used for podcasts.

The sportsbook replaces the former Northern Lights Theater, and the casino is now planning an outdoor temporary concert venue. Replacing the concert venue allowed the casino to maximize the land already approved for gaming by the state.

“Potawatomi is not going to stop here,” said Oritz. “As far as entertainment goes, we are going to continue to build that brand.”

The sportsbook was built by a partnership of Gilbane Building Co. and Potawatomi’s contracting arm Greenfire Management Services. In addition to dozens of casino employees, several local leaders were on hand to celebrate its opening. Those spotted in the crowd included Milwaukee Brewers business operations president Rick Schlesinger, Milwaukee Bucks exec Kareeda Chones-Aguam, restaurateur Omar Shaikh, Visit Milwaukee CEO Peggy Williams-Smith, State Senator Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) and State Assembly Representative Kalan Haywood II (D-Milwaukee).


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