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Step inside the future of betting in U.S. sports venues

New sportsbooks in Arizona provide glimpse of future as legal betting and professional sports arenas merge.

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3D model: Will Austin, USA TODAY

PHOENIX — Marcus Dowell scanned the scene inside the new FanDuel SportsBook built into the Phoenix Suns’ Footprint Center. 

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been to,” Dowell said astonished. 

Back home in Louisville, Dowell, 25, balances his sports fandom and interest in recreational sports betting by driving more than 30 minutes over the K&I Bridge to reach the Indiana state line, where sports betting is legal. There, he parks at a Wal-Mart or Thornton's gas station and taps on his phone app.

If time allots, he can watch the game play out at a nearby sports bar, or he’ll return home and then drive back the next day to cash in any winnings. 

But on this night, Dowell stepped easily into FanDuel’s 7,400-square-foot retail sportsbook at the Suns’ arena during a visit to the area. Offering more than 25 retail sports gaming machines in addition to five live betting windows, the multimillion-dollar facility has 40 HD televisions, a full-service bar with food options and an MVP room for the most earnest players.

This 3D model shows the main lobby of Fanduel Sportsbook's massive new retail betting location at the Phoenix Suns' Footprint Center.
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Models of Las Vegas sportsbooks have officially arrived to co-exist inside America’s biggest arenas. Give it time: it's coming to your city, too.

A tsunami of followers will make this unique desert operation a standard practice as more states embrace legalized sports betting beyond the 30 that do so now.

In the greater Phoenix area alone, Caesars Sportsbook is constructing a retail betting venue inside the Arizona Diamondbacks' neighboring home, Chase Field, and across town, BetMGM is eyeing an August opening for its joint venture with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals that will offer live betting for the first time inside State Farm Stadium, which will host Super Bowl 57.

"It's advantageous for us to get within the proximity of fans who haven't yet dipped their toes in the water," BetMGM's Vice President of Trading Jason Scott said.

In addition to the large venues, Tipico Sportsbook will sponsor a lounge. The Tipico Sportsbook club VIP area debuted at Lower.com Field last month when the Columbus Crew's kicked off its 2022 MLS season. Ohio fans are expected to be legally betting by early 2023. 

BetMGM is already set up at Nationals Stadium in Washington, and when baseball owners and its players union finally strike a deal, Scott anticipates easy transactions for fans.

Construction crews worked on creating the FanDuel Sportsbook on the north end of Footprint Center, the home of the NBA's Phoenix Suns.
Construction crews worked on creating the FanDuel Sportsbook on the north end of Footprint Center, the home of the NBA's Phoenix Suns. Richard Ruelas/The Republic

"Certainly, baseball stadiums — with 81 home games — must do this," Scott said. "I've seen the drawings for State Farm Stadium, and they're incredible. That venue will be far more about hospitality, with food and beverage service."

The preview to all of this is already operational, built in place of a former Footprint Center restaurant.

The timing of the Suns' sportsbook is wondrous, following their third NBA Finals appearance in team history and opening just as Arizona opened legal online betting to coincide with the start of the NFL regular season.

An average of nearly 2,000 customers flow through the book on a Suns gameday, and attendance on an NFL gameday was on average 121% higher. There is no cost for entry, but patrons must be 21 to enter and show identification at the door.

Cedric Byiringiro
So many people here see it as an even more encouraging reason to watch the game.

“So many people here see it as an even more encouraging reason to watch the game," said Phoenix sportsbook bettor Cedric Byiringiro, who joined eight friends pooling their minds to place the shrewdest possible wagers before the Suns tipped off against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder Dec. 29. 

“This is going to take over America, for sure.” 

More: Arizona sets new national records for gambling in first months of sports betting

The Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Washington Wizards/Capitals and New Jersey Devils are among others who have already placed or are planning retail betting locations inside their venues.  

One Phoenix visitor from Minnesota, Taylor Foster, and friends, were so taken by the new phenomenon of holiday betting and bowl games that they traveled to the Southwest for a week-long vacation that included their beloved Minnesota Golden Gophers playing West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. 

“We can’t bet back home, but you can in Iowa, so we’ve gone down there just over the Minnesota border for March Madness,” Foster said. “This … is a whole other level of entertainment. 

“This is my team. The Gophers. So, it’s about the excitement. Here we are now, in person, so much more invested in the game. It’s awesome.” 

Foster gathered his game tickets at the same Caesars window where he put down $100 on his Gophers to cover the six points against the Mountaineers. Foster and his team cruised to victory, 18-6, rejoicing over the defense’s showing and enlivening possibilities for profits that lie ahead while betting the college football bowl games, NBA and NFL. 

Soon, the Caesars operation in Chase Field will be a 20,000-square-foot, two-story venue anchored by a Guy Fieri restaurant, multiple floors of betting space, wall-to-wall televisions, a full-service bar and a VIP lounge.

At FanDuel's venue, bettor Kevin Moore, a behavioral health technician, said he’s been a constant at the arena’s sportsbook since its Sept. 9 opening, developing a strategy that’s heavily reliant on the live betting of player propositions. 

“Every state will have this — and they should — because it gives the average person a chance to learn something, to make money and experience a life outside of working,” Moore said. 

A tour of the venue reveals a slew of betting options at kiosks that go above and beyond the standard point spreads and over/under totals most bettors are typically restricted to by private bookmakers and even in Las Vegas sportsbooks. 

The offerings included over/unders for point totals for every player expected to participate in the Suns vs. Thunder game that night, while adding props for rebounding and assist totals. 

This is where the action happens. Explore a 3D reconstruction of the betting kiosks inside Fanduel Sportsbook's Footprint Center location, where fans can scroll through thousands of potential wagers.
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“It’s so much better to go after the player props during the game because of how the numbers and odds change in your favor,” Moore said. “When they’re already playing, it feels like you have better chances. You can see how the game’s playing out and you feel more confident in your picks.” 

Since Phoenix is a melting pot, particularly during snowbird season, discussions are usually friendly sporting banter, creating a neighborhood culture. Moore, a Chicago native, said he’s developed several friendships with Green Bay Cheeseheads. 

“No matter who you are, when you predict something and it comes true, you have the best feeling,” Moore said. “You’re a hit!” 

Those in Suns courtside seats — that recently included members of the Kardashian family and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — are afforded access to a private betting room. 

A home advantage while betting is just as significant as it is to teams, according to multiple people inside the main betting area, including Elias Dotson, the owner of Championship Cuts barber shop in Phoenix. 

This 3D image brings you inside the VIP room at FanDuel's Footprint Center retail betting location.
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Dotson, speaking in the FanDuel MVP room that features a massive video wall and leather chairs fitted for Phoenix’s former basketball MVPs Charles Barkley and Diana Taurasi, said being so familiar with the defending Western Conference champion’s roster has paid dividends. 

He constantly inspects the matchups: Who’s guarding big man Deandre Ayton? Who’s on star guard Devin Booker? How’s the game flowing? 

He recalls most vividly a Nov. 19 home comeback victory over the Dallas Mavericks that marked the Suns’ 11th consecutive win. 

“I was seeing how the game was going and I just knew after coming to some other games that we're going to turn it on in the fourth quarter,” Dotson said. 

He put $1,000 on the live point spread and relished in the rally. 

“Playing at home when that energy comes up, they always win,” Dotson said. “Next thing you know, they start coming back and it was so great because I was part of it, being in there. And I had all this money on it.” 

A FanDuel spokesman didn’t express much concern about bettors like Dotson, who can lean heavily on the knowledge that accompanies their allegiance to beat the book. 

“Our traders work very hard and that’s something they take into account, but we’re here for entertainment and we want people to have fun. They have the most fun when they win,” Kirk said. "Obviously, it is a business, but being in this atmosphere and knowing the fans are watching closely, reading players’ body language, feeling the momentum in the crowd — that energy — there is something to be said about it."

A 3D model of the viewing area inside FanDuel Sportsbook's Arizona retail betting facility. Big-screen TVs and plush chairs make monitoring bets comfortable and luxurious.
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“It’s one of those intangible aspects of sports that you can’t quite convey through television or radio. It brings people to the arena and in here in a legal, safe, regulated and fun destination, so it’s a win-win for the Suns’ game-day experience.

"And it’s been a great partnership that is growing to the Super Bowl and March Madness.” 

As Dotson knows, too much of a good thing can prove costly. The book is open from 7 a.m. to midnight on weekends. Sustained betting success is a rarity, and Dotson admits there’s been days he’s overstayed his welcome, joking he secured access to the MVP room by “losing enough money." 

“This is what they give you to make you feel better," he joked. “It’s an addiction. It’s a rush to win, but the losses come with it and there’s no such thing as a positive addiction. So now I just try to stay consistent, keep my bets the same and follow what Las Vegas needs. If I win six of my 10 bets for $100, I’m coming out ahead.” 

Before the Suns and Thunder tipped, there was disagreement inside the sportsbook. The Suns’ spread bulged to 16 points after Oklahoma City’s star shooting guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander entered COVID-19 protocol, and other absences struck. 

More: 10 NBA betting strategies you can take to the bank

“I see it as an early blowout with (Gilgeous-Alexander) out and the Suns likely resting their best players late, so I don’t want to touch anyone’s points," Dowell said. “I’ll just watch it and enjoy it and keep an eye on the live bets.” 

Dotson saw value with the visitors. 

"The spread’s so high, I’m going to bet the Thunder,” he said. “When you’re talking about so many points — and this is a game Phoenix isn’t too worried about — I see the Suns coming in here real relaxed about victory.” 

But the loyalists pounced on their home team. 

One was Heather Jansen, who said she’s embraced casual legalized mobile betting as a way to enhance her time with her spouse.

“I’m doing better than my husband,” Jansen, a lifelong Phoenix resident, boasted. 

Jansen bet on Booker to score at least 30 points — he finished with 38 — while hoping beyond hope a six-leg parlay would strike. 

Accompanied by a friend inside the book, Jansen said the city is abuzz with sports betting talk among people who are only casual sports fans.

“So many people are talking about it, and we encourage friends to get into it because it’s so much fun," she said.

Booker’s point total stagnated at 29 and the Suns trailed late in the third quarter, but then cheering intensified and Phoenix found its form, winning by 18 to cover. 

Just as the line to get in the FanDuel Sportsbook backed up before the game, a new postgame rush was created by home fans eager to cash in their tickets.

Tyler Sormani, 24, won $50 on a $5 parlay of the Suns at -16 with Booker’s over/under points total bet up to 35.  

“I was a little scared, but every time I come to a game I bet so I have something else to cheer for,” Sormani, 24, said. “It’s so much fun when you win. And when the Suns win on top of that, it’s the best.

"I came in here before tip, grabbed a drink, put my money down, and now everything’s paid for."

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