By Xiaotao Zhong
PHOENIX – Since opening its first physical retail location in Arizona six months ago, FanDuel has been booming thanks to the recently rising local NBA team and the influx of out-of-state customers.
“There is a positive momentum with gambling becoming more of a phenomenon as well as the fact that the Suns are really good right now,” said Tim Marks, assistant general manager of FanDuel Sportsbook at Footprint Center. “So it’s cool to come here for the joint venture of placing a couple bets and watching the game as well.”
Arizona is a state with great potential in sports betting as it set record-high debut month wagers among all states in the nation at $291.2 million last September, according to the Arizona Department of Gaming. But FanDuel’s location within a venue that houses sports – the Footprint Center, home arena of the Phoenix Suns, the team that currently holds the best record in the NBA – has also attracted fans from around the U.S. who have become customers.
“The Suns can now say to customers who traveled from different places, ‘Come down and check us out,’” Marks said. “Not just because you want to watch your team play the Suns, which is cool in and of itself, but because we got a sportsbook to be able to show off as the new crown jewel of the Footprint Center.”
Nonetheless, the rise of the Suns was not part of FanDuel’s plan to set the retail spot at the Footprint Center. When the Arizona Department of Gaming announced there would be 10 sports betting licences available for sports organizations in spring 2021, FanDuel had its eye on the Suns as one potential partner, and the deal ultimately was struck in early April. This has become a “happy coincidence” for the organization, said Marks, as the Suns then reached the NBA Finals after a 10-year playoffs drought.
Sports betting at Footprint does not require Arizona residency as long as the bettor is physically in the state, Marks said. Since sports betting is not legalized in every state, FanDuel’s sportsbook has generated interest among travelers from other regions who visit for a Suns game.
Ben Lopez, 43, from California, where sports betting has yet to be legalized, said he was first introduced to sports betting in Las Vegas. He arrived at the Footprint Center on Feb. 15, a few hours before tipoff of the Suns-Clippers game, and said he saw the sportsbook at the arena and decided to sit down and place a couple of bets.
“I am not looking to be getting rich,” Lopez said. “It’s more about the feel-good feeling. The money that I am betting is not something crazy or life-changing.”
In fact, many casual sports gamblers are like Lopez, looking for moments of excitement from sports betting – either the unpredictable nature of gambling when they place the bets, or the enjoyment and sense of achievement after winning a bet, even if it’s just $20 or $50.
Jeff Garland, 56, who has more than 30 years of sports betting experience, has his own betting philosophy.
“I can sit there and throw $100 on one hand of blackjack, (but) how long does it last? How long to end a blackjack game, 30 seconds?” Garland said. “Whereas I can throw $100 on a football game, (and) the game lasts for three hours of entertainment. You get a lot more excitement, which gamblers are in it for.”
Having a physical location to bet can create a positive betting atmosphere for more sports gamblers to find excitement. This “next-iteration” sportsbook, according to Marks, “has everything available, right at the fingertips,” including several huge LED screens airing different sports, a bar that offers food and alcohol and “assistance from well-educated and dedicated staffs in the sportsbook industry.”
There are betting machines available on-site that allow customers to bet online or in-person at the store, which offers much more flexibility. Even for casual sports fans, there are bar tables and armchairs for them to simply watch games without placing any bets.
“This is essentially a Buffalo Wild Wings on steroids,” Marks said. “You don’t even necessarily need to have a ticket to the game, you can enter right off the street.”
When the Suns went on a road trip earlier this season, there were only two to three home games in a given week or 10-day span. On one of these non-event days during the football season, the sportsbook was still able to attract approximately 500 to 600 people to come in daily, according to Marks. These people were there just for the sake of checking out FanDuel, but after knowing what the Footprint Center has to offer, it might incentivize them for a return visit.
While the sportsbook is benefiting from its proximity to a sports venue, it also brings new consumer bases to the Footprint Center. This symbiotic partnership with the Suns is promising for raising FanDuel’s brand awareness and the development of sports betting in Phoenix, Marks said.
“Just the fact that you can comprise the atmosphere of a sportsbook within an arena without even necessarily requiring tickets to the game,” he said, “I think that’s got a very positive impact and implication for the future (operation of the sportsbook).”
Xiaotao Zhong is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @SunnyZ_16.