Given its embrace of sports gambling, would the PGA Tour ever allow fans to place wagers on the grounds of one of its events?
As part of its expanding relationship with fantasy sports and sports betting giant DraftKings, the Tour announced Wednesday its plans to open a sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale, host of the famously revelrous Waste Management Phoenix Open. The announcement follows this week’s decision by Arizona lawmakers to legalize online and retail sports betting in the state.
The sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale will operate year-round, but it stands to be especially busy during the week of the Waste Management, which is known for drawing the largest and loudest crowds of any event on Tour.
While an opening date for the sports book has not been set, Norb Gambuzza, the Tour’s senior vice president of media and gaming, said it is expected to be up and running in time for the 2023 Waste Management Phoenix Open. The tournament falls on Super Bowl weekend, and Phoenix will be hosting the Big Game that year.
“If you had asked me in January of last year if I envisioned something like this taking shape in Arizona, I would not have foreseen it,” Gambuzza said. “It is indicative of the pace of how things are changing and how quickly opportunities are developing.”
With its passage of the companion bills, Senate Bill 1797 and House Bill 2772, Arizona joins the growing number of states to legalize sports gambling in the wake of 2018 Supreme Court ruling that lifted federal prohibitions on the practice. Under the Arizona legislation, 20 gaming licenses are being given out, 10 of which are going to professional sports franchises, including the Arizona Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The NFL was among the professional sports leagues that were quicker than the Tour to jump on the gambling train when the legal landscape around sports betting began to change. But golf has been making up ground rapidly. In late 2018, the Tour announced a global partnership with IMG Arena to license its live scoring data, known as ShotLink, to betting operators around the world. It has since struck deals with five different sports betting operators, including FanDuel. Wednesday’s announcement marks the latest phase in the evolution of the Tour’s relationship with DraftKings, which became the Tour’s official fantasy sports partner in 2019 and one of its official betting operators last year.
In a written statement, Ezra Kucharz, chief business officer at DraftKings, described the sportsbook deal as the fruit of fertile partnership.
“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.”
Though the sportsbook will be DraftKings-branded, other details of its design have yet to be determined, Gambuzza said. Nor has it been decided exactly where on the sprawling TPC course it will stand. Gambuzza said that three locations were under consideration, but that the famously rowdy par-3 16th hole, with its gladiatorial-like setting, wasn’t one of them.
Another of the questions surrounding the sportsbook is one that the Tour has faced ever since it first endorsed betting on its events: How will it guard against the rigging of results and other gambling-related shenanigans?
To that end, Gambuzza said, the Tour has refreshed the language of its integrity program, which players, caddies, tournament officials and other stakeholders in competitions are expected to complete. It has also increased security at events, the better to prevent spectators from trying to influence proceedings. But perhaps the most effective preventive measure is the Tour’s prohibition against any wagers with negative outcomes. You can’t, for instance, bet on a player to miss a putt or knock a tee shot in the drink.
Still for all of those precautions, Gambuzza said the Tour recognized the limits of its power.
“At the end of the day, we are pretty realistic about the idea that if somebody really wants to cause a disruption, there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” he said.
Dubbed the “greatest show on turf,” the Waste Management is unmatched on Tour in the crowds it draws and the noise they create. It is also a fundraising juggernaut, organized by the Thunderbirds, a local charitable-minded organization. Gambuzza said that portions of the proceeds from the sportsbook would go toward the event’s prodigious fundraising effort, though the details of that arrangement have yet to be worked out.
In recent years, other tournaments have adopted elements of the Waste Management’s party-happy atmosphere. Whether other Tour venues will also get sportsbooks is another matter. Gambuzza said it was too early to say.
“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.”