‘You can just hop right on your phone’: Arizona sees gambling boom during Super Bowl week

FanDuel Sprtsbook in Phoenix, Ariz. 2023, Medill Explores.
FanDuel Sportsbook is located next to Footprint Center, home of the Phoenix Suns, but it also allows fans to place wagers on any sport or team they desire. (Zain Bando/MEDILL)

By Zain Bando
Medill Reports

PHOENIX –  The FanDuel Sportsbook was quiet. Hours before Super Bowl LVII between Kansas City and Philadelphia, bettors sat in comfy chairs. Several television screens showed various games across college basketball and the NBA, including an upset with No. 1 Purdue falling to Northwestern.

Before September 2019, sports gambling was frowned upon in 49 of 50 states, except Nevada. As of January, 36 states have legalized sports betting, including Arizona. According to the American Gaming Association, a projected $16 billion was wagered on Eagles-Chiefs, with 69% of the bets leaning the Eagles’ way.

The Chiefs’ 38-35 victory over the Eagles was significant for the sports gambling industry, as Kansas City was the betting underdog and covered the one-and-a-half-point spread. Therefore, as the old saying goes in Las Vegas, “The house always wins,” which was proven true Sunday night.

Even without a ticket to the Super Bowl, football fans still could place bets around the state, including entertainment hotbeds such as Scottsdale and Glendale. One prominent sportsbook, FanDuel, partners with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Arizona became the first state to host a Super Bowl where sports betting is legalized, including a Bet MGM sportsbook outside State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals and the site of the NFL season’s final game.

Reed Wallach, a betting analyst for BetSided.com, says sportsbooks now recognize the economic benefits of in-stadium wagering, especially with Arizona’s newfound acceptance of the activity.

 “The legalization of sports betting in Arizona has really led to this serious push from not only the state, but sportsbook operators because they’re allowed to have — not free reign because obviously there’s rules and regulations — but they’re able to really live out in the open, and they don’t need to (have the consumer) call their local bookie to get in a bet on the Super Bowl,” Wallach said in a phone interview.

Despite in-person betting remaining an easy way to place wagers, the new generation of mobile sports betting continues to rise in popularity, as the NFL’s season finale was no different. Fans could bet on everything Super Bowl-related, including the length of Rihanna’s halftime show to the game’s final score — all with a deposit and a push of a few buttons.

“You can just hop right on your phone,” Wallach said. “I know there’s a sportsbook right outside (State Farm Stadium). Sports betting is everywhere. You see the money being invested from these operators, whether it’s your DraftKings or your FanDuels, but they’re partnering with (the NFL) and everything. I think it absolutely is the new normal as more states come online and states start hosting the Super Bowl.”

Wallach also said people want to have fun with their friends, making mobile sports gambling a new and innovative way to enjoy games, even if the consumer does not pick the winning team. Prop bets, futures, over-under plays and total point bets are just a few ways fans can have a stake in the action without cheering for one team or the other.

FanDuel Sportsbook 2023 (Inside)
Bettors watch several basketball games, including Ohio State vs. Michigan State, Northwestern vs. Purdue and the Boston Celtics vs. Memphis Grizzlies, hours before kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday. (Zain Bando/MEDILL)

Zack Johnson, a displaced New England Patriots fan from Park Ridge, Illinois, went 2-1 on his Super Bowl bets as he hit two props and lost another, deciding not to pick either team to win. Johnson has been gambling for about two years and says next year’s Super Bowl has a chance to be even more significant as America’s biggest sporting event comes to the mecca of gambling ­— Las Vegas ­— in 2024. 

“(The Super Bowl) will certainly get larger next year,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “And I think it could be in Las Vegas or, you know, Minnesota, and I think it will still be larger, just based on how the business is growing, the fact that there’s seemingly a new company popping up every day with a sportsbook. There are more promos, you know, ‘Risk-free, bet $5, get $200 (in free bets),’ that kind of stuff. That just gets people into it.”  

As sports gambling coverage continues to grow across ESPN, Fox Sports and other major networks, it is arguably only a matter of time before sports bets become more critical than a post-game box score.  

Zain Bando is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter (@zainbando99) and add him on LinkedIn here.