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Tue, Aug. 20

Survey: Arizonans favor betting on pro, college sports
Governor sees revenue opportunity, may turn to casinos or off-track betting sites

PHOENIX — Arizonans appear more than open to the idea of being able to wager money on professional and college sports events.

But it remains to be seen whether that attitude will change depending on where all that new wagering takes place.

A new statewide survey Thursday by the First Strategic finds 51.5 percent of the 703 people questioned by telephone said they are likely to support legalized sports wagering. Slightly more than 40 percent said they oppose the concept, with the balance undecided.

Bob Charles who conducted the poll for the lobbying and public relations firm, said there was no significant difference in responses based on political party affiliation.

Charles also said the support level goes up to 67 percent when those on the other end of the phone learn that sports betting “could bring millions of dollars to the state that could be directed towards education, road improvements and other important resources.”

And when asked where they would like any revenues to go, more than half want any new dollars earmarked for education. The other responses were split almost equally among law enforcement, roads, homelessness and a catch-all category of everything else.

The survey comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court voided a federal law that required most states to forbid such wagering. That, in turn, opens the door for Gov. Doug Ducey and state legislators to decide whether to alter Arizona to permit that kind of gaming and, if so, where it should be allowed to take place.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said the survey supports the ideas the Ducey first floated following the court ruling.

“His perspective is the perspective of the majority of Arizonans, which is this presents an opportunity for the state for additional revenues,’’ Scarpinato said.

But he said the governor still is looking at how such gaming might be handled.

“He cares about how it’s done,’’ Scarpinato said, saying that once the state goes down that road and opens the door to sports gaming it would be hard to suddenly decide that maybe there are flaws in how it is implemented. “We want to make sure we do it right,’’ he said.

And there’s something else. Scarpinato said his boss wants to “maintain the culture and flavor of the state.

“I think his bias would be towards expanding this where we already have gaming in existence,’’ he said. “So let’s work within that framework.’’

That, however, still leaves options. One would be to have sports gaming only at tribal casinos.

They already have the exclusive right to operate full-scale gaming like slot machines, poker and blackjack. In exchange, the state gets a share of the profits.

But Scarpinato acknowledged there already is gambling on sporting events of a sort elsewhere in Arizona, with existing horse tracks taking wagers not only on races there but also “teletrack” dog and horse-racing events from other states.

More significant is there are nearly 60 off-track betting sites around the state at bars and restaurants where customers can place bets on both in-state and out-of-state races.

In the tri-city area that includes Prescott, two off-track betting sites exist. One is Matt’s Saloon in downtown Prescott, while the other is the Antelope Lanes bowling alley in Prescott Valley.

Matt Brassard, who is co-owner of Matt’s Saloon with Marco Espitia, said, “I think it is definitely something people have wanted for some time.”

He added that it could be a good thing, “especially if the state utilizes the revenue for things like education” funding.

Brassard said people are going to gamble anyway, especially with Prescott’s proximity to Las Vegas. “Why not keep it here?” And, it could be great for Matt’s Saloon, if the business could have a sports book, he added.

Charles said he plans a future survey to determine if the attitudes of Arizonans toward sports wagering and where the sites will be located.

His firm, First Strategic, does lobby for a client with an interest in the issue: Delaware North, a company that operates various entertainment and other venues around the country — as well as off-track betting sites at Apache Greyhound Park and Max’s Sports Bar in Glendale.

The survey, conducted Tuesday, has a margin of error of 3.7 percent.

Courier Senior News Editor Tim Wiederaenders contributed to this article.

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