Former NFL players, and an ESPN anchor who grew up in Washington, part of grand opening festivities
Open for a couple of weeks now, the sportsbook at ilani held its grand opening on Sunday and a few Northwest celebrities showed up to celebrate.
NFL Hall of Famer and former Seattle Seahawk Walter Jones, former Washington State and NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett greeted sports fans at the Stadium Sports Bar and Grill near the sportsbook.
Bledsoe and Everett stayed well into the night with a VIP wine tasting hour and then a dinner, visiting with guests of ilani and talking about their love for the Northwest.
Everett, born in Portland and who grew up in Spokane, often gives on-air shout-outs to people he knows from the region. He might say, “This one’s for Uncle Bill in Ridgefield” when he starts a Mariners highlight, for example. Everett has several relatives living in Clark County as well as in the Portland area, and he is a property owner in the Northwest.
Still, this was his first visit to ilani.
This past summer, Everett, who also is the host of the pre-game shows for the Portland Trail Blazers, attended a concert at the RV Inn Style Resorts Amphitheater in Ridgefield. On Sunday, he drove past that venue on the way to ilani.
“It’s a whole new world” just a few miles from the amphitheater, he said, amazed at the resort.
The opening of the sportsbook has been in the works for a long time at ilani. Around the time that the pandemic hit, a new law was signed in the state allowing for sports betting at tribal casinos. When ilani had a soft opening a couple weeks ago, it became the first place in Southwest Washington to legally place a bet on sports.
But it is more than a gambling destination, according to Kara Fox-LaRose, general manager at ilani.
“Our mission is to create memorable experiences for guests,” Fox-LaRose said. “It’s a great space where people can enjoy the game and really great food.”
The Stadium grill is a family restaurant, too. Sure, one must be 21 or older to gamble, but the restaurant, with dozens of television screens broadcasting sports from all over the world, is available to all ages. Each table is equipped with its own audio device, as well, so parties can choose which game they want to listen to while eating.
“It’s so exciting. It’s been a sought-after amenity that we’ve been working toward adding to all the amazing things happening here at ilani,” said Fox-LaRose, emphasizing that ilani now has the largest video wall in the region.
(Those who have been to Big Al’s in east Vancouver understand the sports-centric concept of large video walls of televisions. And those who have been to Buffalo Wild Wings appreciate the opportunity to feats and view several sporting options.)
For those wishing to do a little more than view a sporting event, there are sports betting kiosks throughout the casino as well as a sports betting window within easy walking distance of the restaurant.
But again, Fox-LaRose noted, the restaurant and sports betting are separate at ilani.
Bledsoe was also there to pay tribute to his company’s partnership with ilani. Bledsoe and his wife Maura run Doubleback Winery, a business based in his hometown of Walla Walla.
Great land and great people, Bledsoe said of his business.
“We feel like as long as we have those two fundamental assets as the bedrock of our business, we have a chance to be successful,” Bledsoe said. “One of the reasons we love this partnership (is) ilani is rooted in the same thing. Very historic tribal land and great people.”
Drew and Maura started their Sunday morning in Kentucky before hopping on a plane to the Northwest for a full day’s activities at ilani.
“It is Important to us that we represent our family but also represent our little hometown, our region, and our state when we’re out there,” Bledsoe said. “I talk about Washington a lot when I’m on the road.”
And he loves traveling the state, not just to market his wine, but to say hello.
“Being around the state, being around old friends and new friends, it’s always awesome,” Bledsoe said. “I always knew the Northwest was going to be home.”
Restaurants at ilani such as Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse and Rose and Thorn offer Doubleback, the original wine for the company, as well as the Bledsoe Family Winery Cabaret.
Everett started his day Sunday by finishing his shift at ESPN Los Angeles at 2 a.m. He caught an early flight to Portland before arriving at ilani for his first visit to the casino.
Everett and Fox-LaRose held a Q and A regarding the opening of sports betting in Clark County, describing how it works and some of the regulations. While bets on college football are allowed, for example, fans cannot bet on games featuring Washington college programs.
Eventually, Everett said, he wants to move back to the Northwest.
“This is family. This is home for me,” Everett said. “Portland is the City of Bridges. This is a bridge for me to get back.”
And when he does move back to the area, he now knows there is a restaurant in north Clark County with a whole lot of television screens focused on sports — just like he’s at his office at ESPN.
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