Trailblazers: PGA Tour announces deal to build sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale

Jay Dieffenbach

The sports betting legislation moving forward in Arizona is a natural fit with the state’s renowned golf industry, and the PGA Tour already has moved on the opportunity.

The tour on Wednesday announced its intention to partner with DraftKings for an on-site sportsbook at the TPC Scottsdale, home of the most highly attended PGA tournament – the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Financial terms were not clarified, including the distribution of revenue from the sportsbook.

"'The People's Open' is one of the most attended events in golf and with this announcement we look forward to taking the fan experience to another level," Norb Gambuzza, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of media and gaming, said in a release.

Arizona on Monday sent to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk a bill that will allow mobile and retail sports betting, and gives professional sports leagues the ability to open "in-stadium" type of retail experiences. Ducey is expected to sign the legislation into law later this week.

Under the Arizona legislation, 20 gaming licenses are being given out, 10 of which are going state tribes and 10 to professional sports franchises.

The NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, the MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks and the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes are among the teams able to partner with betting operators to run retail sportsbooks as in-stadium experiences.

The agreement with DraftKings comes after months of negotiations with other betting operators, according to Golf Digest.

“This is a definitive step forward. Some of the steps forward we take in this space are small and incremental… this one is full stride,” Gambuzza told Golf Digest.

Ezra Kucharz, chief business officer at DraftKings, described the deal in a statement: “This momentous effort to pursue a first-of-its-kind sportsbook with the PGA Tour is a testament to the vision of both organizations that we believe will ultimately benefit Arizona sports fans who want to legally bet on sports.”

Bettors will find that it’s worth the wait – but there will be a wait

Gambuzza said his target for opening the sportsbook is prior to the 2023 Super Bowl, scheduled for the home of the Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz.

The Phoenix Open is traditionally held during Super Bowl week and culminates on Super Bowl Sunday. The self-proclaimed “Greatest Show on Grass” welcomes 700,000 fans in a normal (non-pandemic) setting and is a major fundraiser.

The 2019 tournament raised more than $13.2 million dollars for charity, setting a tournament record for the eighth straight year.

The Super Bowl, the Phoenix Open with the extra spice of sports betting? Fans of golf, betting and, well, entertainment, should have plenty to celebrate.

While this is golf’s first official foray, sportsbooks at other venues have taken hold.

William Hill has a shop inside Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., where the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals play, and DraftKings announced plans for a retail sportsbook at the home of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field.

As to further expansion into sports betting, Gambuzza said the TPC deal was more of a one-off, for now.

“This was not part of our strategy from the beginning where we said, Let’s go build sportsbooks at golf courses,” Gambuzza said. “This opportunity arose out of a number of very specific circumstances. We are going to evaluate others as they come.”

The arrangement raises more questions with every new detail

There are guidelines against golf tournaments providing on-site betting, but Gambuzza says there is an easy answer.

He told ESPN that the planned sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale is a standalone facility, open throughout the year, and therefore it will not be subject to those restrictions and prohibitions.

"While it's technically on the grounds of TPC Scottsdale, it's not integrated into and a part of the tournament construct," Gambuzza said.

The Golf Digest story raises some questions worth discussion:

What’s to stop someone from placing a wager at the tour-sanctioned sportsbook, then running to the golf course and screaming in a player’s backswing—potentially influencing the outcome of the tournament? Justin Thomas just a few months ago was asked about this very issue, and he admitted he and other players were concerned about that potential.

Gambuzza said those hypotheticals are included in the topics discussed by the PGA Tour officials in concert with the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council.

“The level of frequency and volume of communication on the topic of sports betting has been and will continue to grow with our players,” Gambuzza told Golf Digest.

“We don’t view that specific item as something that’s going to be a contributing factor to grow our risk factor. We are continuing to look at and strengthen and emphasize our integrity program. We’re continuing to look at security and what measures we can take to prevent and inhibit that behavior."

The TPC layout covers 36 holes and myriad options for the PGA’s sportsbook location. Gambuzza said three possible spots at TPC Scottsdale are under consideration, but that the future site will be a “world-class, premium experience with great food and a great sports atmosphere—on the site of a golf course.”

As for the evolution of the process that helped the PGA Tour arrive at its decision, the possibility appeared on the radar when professional sports leagues became part of some proposed sports-betting legislation in Arizona last summer.

At that point, Gambuzza said, a proposal was developed and presented to the tour’s senior leadership team — including commissioner Jay Monahan –with an abundance of extra detail, foresight and consideration.

"It’s indicative of this entire space for us—and all of the leagues—and how it really continues to evolve under our feet,” Gambuzza said.

"The same thought and care and diligence that we apply to every decision of consequence that we take in this space was applied to this case, and more."

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