Column: Betting on the West, Arizona Should be Major Market

Column: Betting on the West, Arizona Should be Major Market

Both materially and geographically, Arizona sports betting is an important step in the migration of sports gambling in the U.S.

For one thing, Arizona is already a reasonably large market. The state is the 14th largest by population, with nearly 7.3 million residents representing about 2.2% of the U.S. population. The state’s largest city, Phoenix, is No. 5 in the country, with more than 1.7 million people (more than cities such as Philadelphia and Dallas).

More importantly to businesses eyeing Arizona is its growth rate. Various population measures rank Arizona’s population growth slightly differently but this much is clear: While the U.S. as a whole grew 6.7% since the 2010 census, Arizona grew by 16.1% (fifth highest in the country and, in the process, picked up a seat in the House of Representatives).

All of this bodes well for companies looking to enter the new Arizona sports betting apps market — and there are quite a few companies who soon will be taking bets there. Plus, it bears mentioning that the official population count doesn’t take into consideration the impact of part-time snowbird residents and tourists who would swell Arizona’s sports betting ecosystem and who arrive with fat wallets.

Arizona’s adoption of sports wagering became official when, on May 24, the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the deal hammered out between the state and the Native American tribal interests who run the casino industry in Arizona.

As a result, there will be actual physical sportsbooks throughout the state in casinos and at sports venues. There will also be 20 online licenses with 10 of those going to casinos and another handful going to pro sports franchises/organizations, such as MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks, the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, golf’s TPC Scottsdale and auto racing’s Phoenix Raceway.

In the process, the Native American casinos now can offer table games they couldn’t operate previously, including craps, roulette, baccarat, Pai gow and sic bo, as well as being able to add sports gambling to their list of gaming amenities. Up to now, casino games have been limited to blackjack, poker, keno and bingo.

Top Sportsbooks Lining Up

In the retail and online sportsbooks, expect to see some of the familiar sports wagering names — DraftKings sportsbook, FanDuel sportsbook, BetMGM sportsbook, Caesars/William Hill sportsbook and others. Depending on the speed of licensing and the sports operators getting their physical and virtual books up and running, there could be sports betting in Arizona by this football season.

Good weather and a robust sports calendar that features an almost constant parade of top sports events, from PGA tournaments to college football bowl games to NASCAR — all adding to an already busy schedule featuring hometown pro and college teams — will provide sports wagering operators with plenty of live event material on which to hang juicy promotions to recruit customers.

In addition to providing sports gambling companies with a new territory that has tremendous demographic upside, Arizona sports gambling also marks a slight geographic tilt in the sports wagering universe.

East Coast Beginning

After the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had given Nevada a virtual monopoly on broad single-event sports betting, the first movers were East Coast states that had been at the forefront of the legal battle. Those were Delaware and New Jersey. And spurred by their neighbors’ moves to sports gambling, Pennsylvania and West Virginia followed suit. Midwest states with in-place casino industries, Iowa and Indiana, joined in with Michigan and Illinois later.

Jumping the Mississippi has been slow. Of course, Nevada already had the most mature sports gambling industry in the nation, but otherwise, western expansion has been hit-or-miss. Colorado was the most aggressive western new mover; despite having casinos limited to old mining towns, the online market is going full blast in Colorado. Oregon has a tepid version of online sports wagering. Washington state is edging toward retail sports betting at its tribal casinos. But the big western states, California and Texas, are stuck in neutral on sports wagering for a variety of reasons.

Whether Arizona, growing in both population and overall regional influence, will influence loosening the western logjam remains to be seen. However, on its own, Arizona is certain to be a solid player in the sports wagering world.



Bill Ordine

Bill Ordine is a writer for BetArizona. He was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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