Sports Betting in Arizona: What Happens Next?

By Bobbe McGinley, Provider for the Division of Problem Gambling
Founder of ACT—Counseling & Education
Clinical Director, Recovery in the Pines and Birches Health


In 2021, Arizona joined a growing list of states that legalized sports betting, opening up new avenues for revenue and entertainment. The move came as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018, allowing states to decide on the legality of sports betting within their borders.


Arizona benefits from sports betting

According to the American Gaming Association, commercial revenue from the legal sports betting market in the United States was estimated to be $5.4 billion in November 2023, a large increase from previous years. Arizona aims to be a significant part of that revenue with a total handle of $714 million in November 2023 (a 10.1% increase from October 2023).

Arizona’s decision to embrace sports betting reflects a broader trend of states recognizing the potential financial gains and job creation associated with legalizing and regulating this industry.

Proponents of legalized sports betting argue that it can bring various benefits to states, including increased tax revenue, job creation, and the stimulation of local economies. In Arizona, the introduction of sports betting has led to partnerships between sportsbooks and professional sports teams, creating additional streams of income for both parties.

Moreover, legalizing sports betting allows states to regulate the industry, implementing measures to protect consumers and maintain the integrity of the games. By bringing the activity into the legal framework, authorities can monitor and address potential issues such as fraud, match-fixing, and underage gambling more effectively. However, despite potential economic benefits that states trumpet, sports betting can manifest as dangerous actions and fundamentally unsustainable behavior for at-risk individuals.


What about the risks?

Psychologist consulting patient through video call, man talking about personal problems.One of the most significant dangers associated with sports betting is the potential for problem gambling. According to a study by the Arizona Department of Gaming, approximately 2.6% of the adult population in the state is at risk of developing a gambling problem. The legalization of sports betting has the potential to exacerbate this issue, as easy accessibility and marketing strategies may entice vulnerable individuals to engage in excessive and harmful gambling behavior.

Another concerning aspect of sports betting is its appeal to younger demographics. A survey conducted by the National Council on Problem Gambling found that 6% of teenagers in the United States (aged 14-21) have a gambling problem. This prevalence is often drastically increased on university campuses as young adults find themselves away from family, friends, and community support systems for the first time in their lives.

With sports betting becoming more prevalent and easily accessible, there is a heightened risk of young individuals getting involved in gambling activities, leading to potential long-term consequences.


The Consequences of Problem Gambling

Problem gambling can have severe financial implications for individuals and their families. According to a report by the National Council on Problem Gambling, problem gamblers in the United States have an average debt of $55,000. The allure of quick winnings and the excitement of sports betting can lead individuals to make irrational and impulsive decisions, putting their financial stability at risk.

The consequences of problem gambling extend beyond the financial realm and can significantly impact mental health. Studies have shown a correlation between gambling addiction and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The thrill of the bet can turn into a vicious cycle, with individuals chasing losses and experiencing emotional distress as a result.

Gambling disorder does not just affect the individual; it also has broader social implications. Families may face strained relationships, and communities may bear the burden of increased crime rates associated with compulsive gambling. The normalization of sports betting can contribute to a culture where gambling problems are downplayed or overlooked.


With the advent of telehealth, organizations such as Birches Health have specialized in providing high quality, clinical treatment focused on convenience and accessibility.”


Treating gambling disorder can be challenging, partly because most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem. Yet a major part of treatment is acknowledging there is gambling problem.


Behavioral therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful. Behavioral therapy uses a process of exposure to the behavior wanted to unlearn and teaches skills to reduce the urge to gamble. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying unhealthy, irrational and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy, positive ones. Family therapy also may be helpful.


Antidepressants and mood stabilizers may help treat problems that often go along with compulsive gambling —such as bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety. Some antidepressants may be effective in reducing gambling behavior, according to researchers, articles with the National Institutes of Health. Medications called narcotic antagonists, useful in treating substance misuse, may help treat compulsive gambling.


Some people find that talking with others who have a gambling problem may be a helpful part of treatment and support can be found in Gambler’s Anonymous as well as Gam-Anon for family members and affected others, and work with sponsors within these groups.

Treatment for gambling disorder begins with an extensive assessment of the gambler’s motivation for treatment, symptoms, the consequences of his/her gambling, and social competence. This assessment is followed by client training in emotional awareness, coping with negative emotions, and social and problem-solving skills. Treatment referral may involve an outpatient program, inpatient program or a residential program, depending on the needs of the gambler and resources. With the advent of telehealth, organizations such as Birches Health have specialized in providing high quality, clinical treatment focused on convenience and accessibility. Self-help treatment such as structured internet-based programs and telephone visits with a professional may be an option for some people.

Treatment for substance misuse, depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue may be part of the treatment plan for gambling disorder.

Even with treatment, there may be a return to gambling, especially if time is spent with people who gamble, or time is spent in gambling settings. Relapse prevention is critical and would include reaching out to a treatment provider, or a sponsor or other 12-Step group member for support. State resources include the Division of Problem Gambling and the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling.


About the Author

Bobbe McGinley, MA, MBA, LISAC, NCGC II, CADAC has been working in the field of Chemical Dependency since 1988, and she has worked with Problem and Compulsive gamblers since being Certified by the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc. in 1996 and Nationally Certified in 1999. Bobbe works in private practice, where she is Clinical Director, Counselor and Consultant at her agency ACT – Counseling & Education. For information call 602-569-4328 and visit


Resources When You Need Help

Call 24-hour helpline 1-800-NEXT-STEP |  TEXT NEXT-STEP to 53342

Gamblers Anonymous —

AZ Council Compulsive Gambling— 1-800-777-7207

ACT Counseling & Education — 602-569-4328

Birches Health— 833-483-3838