As the saying goes, the hardest million dollars to make is the first. The saying may not hold true for sports betting licenses in the US. But you wouldn’t blame Mark Thomas and others at ZenSports if they felt that way after finally getting that first license approved in Nevada.
After more than five hours of questioning in two meetings, the California-based company was approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission for a two-year license to conduct sports betting and operate a casino in the state.
There were some conditions applied to the approval. Those include the company funding a $25,000 account with the Nevada Gaming Control Board that the board can draw from to conduct investigations and restrictions on issuing cryptocurrency tokens.
As the hearing started, NGC Chair John Moran said he and the other commissioners watched the discussion that took place two weeks ago during the GCB hearing. He quipped the length of the hearing, about three hours, was reminiscent of hearings for “the Wynn merger and the Krikorian mergers,” and hoped to avoid a similar discussion.
After about two hours, the commission voted 2-1 to approve the gaming company co-founded by Mark Thomas. But that conversation dealt with several of the complexities of ZenSports – including several items the company plans to pursue in the near future.
ZenSports emerged on the scene about 18 months ago. At that time, the company was operating a peer-to-peer sports betting marketplace licensed out of Curacao. However, Thomas was raising millions in an attempt to launch in the States.
Focus on Nevada
The plan was, and still is, to operate a peer-to-peer marketplace, similar to what many consider an exchange-style operation that matches up interested bettors on games and events. However, Thomas told Casino.org prior to the commission meeting last week that the marketplace concept and accepting cryptocurrency for wagers is part of the company’s second phase in Nevada.
For now, the company’s focus is on operating the Big Wheel Casino. It’s a small establishment, with less than 50 slots, in Lovelock, Nev. – roughly halfway between Reno and Winnemucca along Interstate 80. Thomas and his company will add a sportsbook there and operate the sportsbook at Baldini’s, a bar and casino in Sparks, just outside of Reno.
While they’re committed to the retail sportsbook operation, ZenSports is still working to get its mobile app rolling.
Speaking of online, ZenSports had operated its exchange globally through the license in Curacao. But Thomas told the Commission last week those operations stopped on July 31.
We’re a little bit smaller company,” he told the NGC. “It’s important for us to maintain focus. We decided earlier this year to cease our international operations. It just wasn’t generating that much revenue, and we want to be laser-focused on the US market.”
Over the past year, ZenSports also had its eye on opportunities across the country. The company has applied for licenses in Tennessee and Virginia, and thanks to its partner in Nevada, it also has the opportunity to roll out in Colorado as well.
“We had put our Tennessee license application on hold while we focused on Nevada,” Thomas told Casino.org last Friday. “We plan on resuming that application soon.”
ZenSports Gets Their Chance
After the two hours of questions and answers during the hearing, it wasn’t a certainty that ZenSports would be approved by the commission. The NGC is supposed to be a five-member organization, but Deborah Fuetsch resigned in May. Commissioner Ogonna Brown recused herself because a member of the law firm where she’s a partner represented ZenSports before the agency.
The three remaining members each had a level of hesitation. Commissioner Steven Cohen told Thomas that after going over the company’s financial plan, he couldn’t determine if they were “dreamers or geniuses,” and that still wasn’t resolved after most of the discussion on Thursday.
Rosa Solis-Rainey, who ended up voting “No,” raised concerns about the company’s overall experience, especially in terms of handling compliance issues.
“I’m just concerned with the level of funds available and… with respect to the level of experience, I am not prepared to support it with what we have in front of us,” she said.
Moran, though, said that he was willing to give them a chance. The two-year license contained more than a dozen conditions they have to meet. After the motion passed, he wished Thomas and his team good luck, noting that some of the commissioners will see them again in a couple of years.
After the approval, Thomas said the company was thrilled to get the opportunity in Nevada.
“It was a lot of work and time spent to get to this point,” he said. “Big credit to our team and also to the investigators at NGCB for working so hard on this application. This is the first of many great things to come for ZenSports.”