Sports betting starts in Arizona in time for NFL season

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s first sports betting operations officially opened for business Thursday in time for the start of the NFL season, with live wagers taken on college and professional sports online and at two retail locations in Phoenix.

Taking in-person bets in the morning were the FanDuel Sportsbook at the downtown Phoenix arena where the Phoenix Suns play and temporary betting windows just down the street at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field run by Caesars Entertainment. Several companies also began accepting online bets.

“Used to go to Vegas to do this,” said a pumped up Emil Stefan, 59, after placing a bet at the Caesars window. “This saves us a lot of money, time and fuel to do it here.”

At midday, lines were short but a steady stream of customers placed bets at the Chase Field betting windows. Down the street at the Suns arena, about a dozen men watched giant screens playing the U.S. Open tennis tournament, phones in hand. Several dozen others milled around, sipped beer, poured over odds sheets or placed wagers at betting windows or electronic machines.

About 40 people were lined up outside when the sportsbook opened, and crowds were in and out all day, said Jeff Lowich, FanDuel senior director for retail operations.

The betting windows were made possible by a new law enacted by the Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey last spring. Gambling, other than old-school contests like Bingo run for charities, was banned outside of casinos run by Native American tribes before the law was passed.

Arizona joins more than half the states in allowing betting on sports, just three years after it was allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state hopes to pull in tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue from legalized gambling.

It’s likely to be lucrative for the teams and gambling companies as well, some of which aggressively advertised on television and social media before Thursday’s launch.

The governor’s office negotiated new agreements with the tribes to allow betting on live and fantasy sports.

In exchange, the tribes were allowed to expand their table game and slot machine offerings and run their own sportsbooks at their casinos.

Ten tribes also won licenses to take sports bets online. Online fantasy sports wagering became legal late last month. Before that, Arizona was one of the few states where it was still banned.

But it is the professional teams that were the first to open actual retail location sportsbooks, according to the state Department of Gaming, because a needed addendum to the tribal gaming compacts has not been finalized.

Despite the availability of online betting, Ian Johnson of Phoenix said he likes placing bets in person because if he wins, he can collect his cash immediately.

“I don’t think I’m going to Vegas anymore,” said Johnson, 38, who works in software sales.

The Caesars sportsbook opened in temporary space using five of the Diamondbacks ticketing windows at Chase Field. Team officials said it’s the first Major League Baseball stadium where fans can place in-person bets. The Diamondbacks plan to open a more permanent space early next year.

The Footprint Center — home of the Suns, Phoenix Mercury and Arizona Rattlers football team — hosts FanDuel Sportsbook, where Ducey and retired Suns players Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson, and FanDuel executives attended a ceremony followed by an official watch party for the NFL season opener featuring the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ahead of kickoff.

The state law allowed licenses for up to 10 professional sports teams and eight were awarded last month, and they and tribes can partner with sportsbooks. The team licenses allow retail and online betting.

In many ways, the online licenses are much more valuable than being able to run a traditional “sportsbook” at a tribal casino or at or near a professional sports team’s stadium.

That’s because online operations can run around the clock with little overhead and aren’t limited to gamblers physically being at a venue.