Place Yer Bet$! You Can Now Gamble on Sports in Arizona

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Let’s say that you’re involved in a series of coin tosses and you have a certain amount of money with which to wager. On each toss of the coin, you wager half of the money in your possession. Just by chance, over a series of tosses, you alternate wins and losses. After an even number of tosses—and an equal number of wins and losses—will you have more money than you started with, less money than you started with, or the exact same amount that you started with?

It is most disconcerting that, when asked that question, the initial response of more than 80% of the respondents was that you would have the exact same amount as you started with. Another few people thought that you would have more than you started with, while only one person in seven correctly responded that the player would lose money.

That’s why Las Vegas exists, why Indian tribes across America are raking in the dough, and now, why, in a moment of boredom, you can whip out your cellphone, call up an app and bet your mortgage payment that the Arizona Wildcats will lose to Oregon in a couple weeks by fewer than 35 points. There are two main truths here: It’s fun to bet, and a deep understanding of math is just such a buzzkill.

As for that problem, let’s say that you have a dollar. You bet 50 cents on the first toss (I said that you bet half of the money in your possession). You win, so now you’re at $1.50. You then bet 75 cents on the second toss, lose, and you’re down to 75 cents. Or you lose the first toss, drop to 50 cents, bet 25 cents and win and you’re at 75 cents. It doesn’t matter if it is win-loss or loss-win. With each pair of tosses, you lose 25% of your total. 

This exercise might or might not come in handy now that Arizona has joined a growing number of states offering betting on sports events. That’s right. There’s gambling going on right here in (Colorado) River City! Although not in Colorado City, because the Jeffs family won’t allow it.

The law that went into effect last Thursday, Sept. 9, is hoped to generate substantial revenue for the state via a tax bite that is 8% on retail revenue (bets placed at the casinos) and 10% of online betting revenue (via computer or cellphone). Estimates of that revenue are in the modest range of $10 million in the first year, but some people view those estimates as far too modest. Whatever the case, sports betting will provide the state with a new source of income.

It’s been 40 years since Arizona became the first state west of the Mississippi to institute a state lottery. The first “Scratch It Rich” lotto tickets were sold on July 1, 1981, with a top prize of (hold onto your hats!) $10,000.   

The Lottery still provides the state with a few million dollars a week for programs such as higher education, health and human services, economic and business development, and environmental conservation. That’s all well and good, but Arizona is now entering a whole different world of gambling.

An organization named BetArizona.com commissioned a YouGov survey to try to determine how hot Arizonans are to bet on sports. Apparently, a lot of Arizonans are hotter than July for online betting.

Among the findings:

  • Nearly 20% of Arizonans already bet on sports, either on offshore websites or by traveling to other states to do so. That percentage might double when sports betting becomes as easy as opening an app on one’s phone.
  • Of those who say that they will bet on sports when it becomes legal, more than half said that they would do so at least once a week. With sports leagues back up and running and highly unlikely to shut down again no matter how bad the Delta outbreak may become, bettors will be able to gamble basically every day of the year.
  • One in four Arizonans have traveled to another state just to put down a legal bet. This suggests that sports wagering in the state was pretty much inevitable and that, if anything, Arizona was somewhat slow to join the movement. They already have sports betting in place like Iowa, Indiana and West Virginia.
  • Many people surveyed expressed a special interest in betting on college sports, which are more likely to have outliers and surprise results than the professional leagues.
  • Nearly half of those surveyed said that they would bet on election results, if such a betting option were available. (I bet Arizona Senate President Karen Fann would have gambled a bundle on Trump winning Arizona in 2020. And then, after the loss, she would have doubled down and bet even more on the replay.)
  • This is bizarre. Nearly half of the people who identified themselves as sports bettors said that they would also wager on such things as the Oscars and the Emmys, as well as on reality shows! Yeah, a hundred dollars on Bachelorette No. 23. (I’m sorry, that reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack asking the judge’s wife if she’d “like to earn $13 the hard way.”)

As it turns out, BetArizona.com is a free-to-use website designed to help (encourage?) Arizonans with their wagering. Created by Gambling.com Group Limited, a NASDAQ corporation, BetArizona.com has a number of features, from gambling-centric articles written by Tucson Weekly alum Christopher Boan to guides on how to sign up to the various sportsbook apps to explanations of parlays and other exotic bets. One of the services it is offering is a guide to all of the various companies vying for the bettors’ loyalty (and money). The marketplace is awash with crazy free-money deals designed to get new customers signed up and playing.  It’s all bright and shiny and inviting in a Brady Bunch/Crack Dealer kinda’ way.

I just have to mention this: 

Jason Barr, the longtime sports guy on the ABC affiliate, KGUN 9, has always been very solid and almost stolid. (He’s basically the anti-Paul Cicala.) Barr gives a straightforward, unvarnished account of the sports without getting too high or too low. 

Anyway, in late August, a couple weeks before the start of online betting, Barr did a segment on the news (brought to you by, ahem, Caesar’s Sportsbook) in which he went through some of the basic wagers that can be placed on sporting events. And he did so in language suited for a fourth-grade audience. 

“So, the over/under wager requires you to determine if you think that the combined scores of the two teams will be over a certain number or under that number.”

I really felt bad for him. He looked constipated. 

Somewhat surprisingly, Tucson’s local casinos were not out in front of the curve on this, especially in terms of their physical plants. Longtime sportsbooks in Las Vegas offer open seating for bettors who can sit and watch games as they wager, eat, drink and communicate with one another. The social setting is very popular with bettors, offering a multi-layered experience that tends to create repeat customers. (One person likened the difference between being at an in-person sports book instead of wagering on one’s phone app to being at a party as opposed to drinking alone.)

Casino Del Sol is putting the finishing touches on its 4,000-square-foot sportsbook, but casino officials blamed COVID-related production delays and shortages on its not being open in time for the first day of sports betting (which, not coincidentally at all, was also the first day of the NFL season). 

Desert Diamond Casino officials say that they are planning to open a sportsbook, but give few details as to what it will be like or when they hope to open it.   

It is important that the Casino Del Sol, run by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, open its sportsbook as soon as possible. As part of the opening up of sports wagering, the State of Arizona issued 18 licenses to run off-site sports books (via phone apps). Ten went to Indian tribes, including the somewhat obscure Quechan Tribe near Yuma and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, an offshoot of a Utah-based tribe that is headquartered in Tuba City and completely surrounded by the Navajo and Hopi Nations. 

The Tohono O’Odham Nation got one of the licenses, but the Pascua Yaqui did not. So, the sportsbook at Casino Del Sol takes on a major importance. (Through one of the quirks in the law, people can download an app that will allow them to place bets remotely with the Casino Del Sol site as long as they are located somewhere on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation. 

While the Pascua Yaqui and five other Arizona Tribes got aced out in the handing out of licenses, eight licenses went to pro sports teams/venues. Licenses were granted to the Suns, Cardinals and Diamondbacks (although it’s hard to count the D-Backs as professional anymore). Other licenses were granted to a golf course in Scottsdale and a (car) race track in Phoenix.

Anyone who has attended a Phoenix Suns game in recent years knows that it is a non-stop assault on the senses, with loud music and flashing lights filling every second when the game is not going on. Now people will also be able to gamble as the game is progressing and the point spread is updated.  

If you ever want to read yourself into a coma, look up Arizona House Bill 2772 online. It’s 19 pages of gobbledygook with a handful of incredibly specific items thrown in, plus a few hair-splitting distinctions like:  

“Deems a promoter for a national association for stock car auto racing national touring race as eligible for an event wagering operator license, rather than the promoter of a sanctioned national touring motorsports racing event.” 

Apparently, those are two different things. 

I’m not a betting man, but I’d be tempted to wager that this law was NOT written by one or more members of the Arizona Legislature. It’s much too professional and much too specific in parts. It reads like a reaction to things that have happened elsewhere and need to be dealt with proactively here.

Then there’s this: “Requires ADG (Arizona Department of Gaming) event wagering standards and procedures to include requirements, rather than contracting, for geolocation services.”

That “geolocation services” phrase pertains to the fact that, in order for the gambling apps to work on the phones, the person using the phone must be doing so inside the state of Arizona. Phones can be tracked to make certain that the law is being followed.

You know the hypocrites scream bloody murder when spending on social programs causes an increase of budget deficits but are oddly mute when equally large budget deficits are caused by tax cuts for the wealthy? So, too, will “privacy hawks” who fear Big Brother just shrug at the thought of a private company pinging a private individual’s phone as long as said individual is able to lay that $50 on the Cardinals covering the spread. 

Jim G. is a walking sports encyclopedia. He remembers names and games, highlights and lowlights. He was all set to be a contestant on Sports Jeopardy when the show got canceled. (Oddly enough, while the show hasn’t had a new episode since December 2016, its producers say that it’s “on hiatus,” so maybe there’s still hope for him.)

He’s a successful businessman with a wife and a couple kids. Sports are still very important to him, but there was a time a few years back when his passion turned to obsession and the obsession led to near ruin. 

We had both read an article in Sports Illustrated about a guy who lived seven-figure large on the fruits of his nerve-wracking labor. The guy was a millionaire and it all came from betting on NBA games. Not football or baseball, not even college basketball. Just the NBA. It all seemed so glamorous until you found that he had banks of computers crunching data non-stop. He was deeply into basketball analytics long before the math poison had spread from baseball to other sports. He also had an army of paid tipsters throughout the league, not doing anything illegal (like providing inside information on injuries), but rather sniffing out pertinent gossip. You know, like which two guys on one team are feuding over a woman or an unpaid debt and are therefore less likely to pass the ball to one another.

The kicker to this whole thing was that, even with him working 16-hour days—every day—for the entirety of the eight-month NBA season, the guy only won about 53% of his bets. He had amassed a fortune by skating barefoot on a razor-thin edge. Now, to some, 53% might sound substantial. But, look at it this way. For every 17 bets he would make, he would, on average, win nine of them, but lose eight!

I’m sorry, you’d have to have nerves of titanium and a complete, unflinching belief in what you’re doing to make a career out of 53%. 

So, not surprisingly, Jim read the article and said, “Yeah, huh?!” He decided that he, too, could earn a living that way. He spent much of one summer studying the situation, learning how point spreads are determined, what makes the line move, and how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to determining what is important and what is a mere distraction.

He ran the numbers and looked into his chances with the various sports. It’s pretty much common knowledge that nobody wins betting on the National Football League over time. That league is so tightly wound that everything converges back to the mean eventually. Same with Major League Baseball. He settled on college basketball. He figured that there was enough volatility in the sport that an astute observer should be able to identify and then make a home on an edge. Yes, he had a System, but then, casinos and their sportsbooks LOVE people with systems.

He would have to travel to Mexico or Las Vegas to put down his bets and his work began to suffer.

His tales of woe were unrelenting. It was as though Poe and Kafka had gotten together to write a story about the guy with the worst luck in the world. The 10-point favorite he had bet on had a 15-point lead late in the game, only to give up two three-pointers in the final minute. A team in a pick-’em game (one with no favorite and therefore no point spread) was down one with three seconds left, but their All-American guard was at the line, shooting two. Bricks ’em both. 

He lost a lot—several friends, all of his savings—and almost lost his job and his fiancée. He didn’t even make it to the end of that first college basketball season. When that March Madness came to an end, his fever broke somewhat and he straightened out before completely crashing to Earth. 

He got married, started a family, and moved up the ladder at work. But, ask him today if he believes that his system just needs a bit of fine-tuning which might be facilitated by the technology at his fingertips, he’d probably answer in the affirmative.

I’d probably bet on it. 

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