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Virgin Hotels approved to open sportsbook

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas cleared its last hurdle Thursday to open a sportsbook, after the Nevada Gaming Commission approved licensing for Betfred Group Ltd. as operators.

Board members voted 4-0 to approve the sportsbook at its regular meeting. Vice Chair Steven Cohen did not participate in the discussion and recused himself from the vote because attorneys at the law firm where he is partner, Cohen Johnson, are involved. He said he also met with representatives of Betfred prior to his appointment on the commission, but does not have a pecuniary interest.

Betfred, a British sportsbook operator that was first licensed in 1967, has operations in the United Kingdom, South Africa and in the United States, including Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Ohio, with 1,400 betting outlets and 11,000 employees worldwide. Founder and Chairman Fred Done — the 79-year-old “Fred” of Betfred — told regulators Wednesday he “never set out to build an empire,” but found that the popularity of sports wagering has led to rapid growth of the industry and his company.

The commission spent about 30 minutes questioning Done and other executives about a lawsuit filed in Australia against the company and disciplinary actions taken by British regulators, but said they were ultimately satisfied with the executives’ explanations on how they occurred and the resolution. They noted Done’s “incredible legacy” and that it appeared his long-time staff became family.

“We ask a lot of hard questions and sometimes the way those questions are answered are defensive or not handled in a way that speaks volumes to character,” Chairwoman Jennifer Togliatti said. “The way you answered those questions and the fact that you’re an open book, as is everybody on your team, and you accept responsibility for your mistakes, you move forward and make changes — (it’s) exactly what regulators like to see.”

The book will be operated within the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority-controlled casino and all but one employee will work for Mohegan. One manager, the sportsbook director, will be a Betfred employee but Mohegan officials said the person will report to both Betfred and Mohegan General Manager Joe Hasson.

Sportsbook officials said the facility is built and screens are set up for guests to watch sports. Transaction equipment is being installed at the four-window book, and they hope to open in time to take Super Bowl wagering.

Initially, the Betfred book will offer sports bets only and no racing wagers, officials told the Nevada Gaming Control Board during a special meeting Wednesday. Managers said they hope to add race betting and a mobile app for betting later this year.

When Virgin Hotels opened in March 2021, it had space for a small sportsbook. But the coronavirus pandemic and the distance between Betfred’s headquarters and Las Vegas prevented the company from opening sooner.

“It’s been a long road to get here,” Hasson said to regulators.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.,

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