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Legal Sports Betting Officially Begins In Arizona

Dave Appleby came to Arizona from the Midwest in 1991.

“Called it my great escape to get away from everybody that knew me so I could live this whole secretive life. This whole second life. And it wasn’t sustainable,” he said.

Betting on cards in high school had led to wagers on horse racing and then games. Appleby crossed a line by his early 20s.  

“When you’re a compulsive gambler, eventually you start gambling on every sport,” he said.

This includes types Appleby never even watched. Getting cash from credit cards kept him in the action even though he bet way more than he could afford on a full-time job.

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“All hell broke loose for me. I walked all over people, manipulated people, lied,” he said.

Appleby has known for months that legal sports betting was coming to Arizona.

“Within the last week, TV has just been inundated with the commercials, and really to the point where I almost call it obnoxious because they are using actors and actresses to glamor the gambling,” he said. 

The comedian J.B. Smoove is featured in Caesars Sportsbook commercials. He’s scheduled to appear with Gov. Doug Ducey and others Thursday at Chase Field. Other sportsbook operators have been running lots of ads too.

Arizona has set up sports gambling in less than 150 days. What starts Thursday is key to an updated compact with tribal nations that took around 2,000 days to negotiate. Also a major part of the deal is that Arizonans don’t have to be inside a casino or venue to make a bet because they can access the sportsbook on their phone.

State officials have given out 18 of the 20 sports gambling licenses created by the updated gaming compact signed in April. All of the licenses set aside for tribal nations are taken. Those remaining will eventually go to professional team owners and sports venue operators.

“As far as I’m aware we don’t have any additional applicants for those two available licenses,” said Max Hartgraves spokesman for the Arizona Department of Gaming, which made fantasy sports games live more than a week ago. “Sports betting, generally speaking, is a much more popular form of wagering when compared to fantasy sports.

This is good news for the state because it will get paid a higher percentage fee for mobile game bets and in person event wagers.

Budget officials forecast the bill expanding gambling in Arizona to add about $34 million a year to the general fund once everything is up and running.

But just two retail sportsbooks, both in downtown Phoenix, open Thursday.  

“Hopefully sooner than later Arizona casinos as well will have sportsbooks,” said Hartgraves.

All sportsbook operators must have a program to reduce compulsive betting. They have to let problem gamblers block themselves from wagering on sports. People needing help can also call the state’s 24-hour hotline number 1-800 Next Step.

“And they’ll be connected with masters level clinicians who trained specifically in problem gambling,” said Hartgraves.

Family finally confronted Dave Appleby about his sports betting addiction.

“Basically tell me that they didn’t believe a thing I said and had no idea what I had done with the money I’d made. I had nothing to show for it,” he said.

In April 2003, Appleby went to Gamblers Anonymous. He hasn’t bet since. If the urge comes, he’ll call on other addicts for support.

“I’m not egotistic and think that this disease is gone. It’s still inside me. It’s just been arrested,” he said. 

Appleby’s biggest concern about event wagering in Arizona is that it could lead to many more people needing the same help he did. But problem gamblers often don’t seek it until their life becomes unmanageable.

“And the problem with it is, as opposed to other addictions, gambling can be a silent disease. So none of your family members or friends may know you’re doing it. You’re on a phone and you look innocent.”

The start of sports betting in Arizona coincides with the start of the NFL regular season. But watching the game isn’t a high priority for Appleby. Instead he’s focused on having dinner with his wife.

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Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.