Arizona Sports Betting Legislation Making Fast Progress In Phoenix

Posted on February 10, 2021

Arizona sports betting legislation is moving faster than Wyatt Earp drew his gun at the O.K. Corral.

One week after introduction, a bill to authorize retail and mobile sports betting for Native American tribes and professional sports operations in the state advanced through committee.

The House Commerce Committee passed H 2772 by a 9-1 vote Tuesday. The Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to hear S 1797 on Wednesday, but the committee pulled the bill from the agenda. The committee is set to meet next on Feb. 16.

With the bills supported by the governor, sports teams, and Indian tribes, Arizona could be on the way to becoming the first state to legalize sports betting in 2021.

Tribal agreement leading way for gaming expansion

Representing Gov. Doug Ducey, General Counsel Anni Foster explained that a deal has been reached to amend tribal compacts to include the ability of the state to offer keno, daily fantasy sports, and sports betting off-reservation without losing the state share of tribal gaming revenue.

The deal is in place between the state and the tribal nations. First, though, the legislature needs to change state law.

“The timing of this legislation is important,” Foster said. “When we entered negotiations, no one could see what this last year would bring. Both the compact amendments and this legislation provide new opportunities to Arizona-based interests that will bring people back to sporting events and tracks while providing more opportunities for the tribes to ensure their self-reliance.”

Sixteen tribes operate 24 casinos in Arizona. The governor hasn’t disclosed the terms of his compact agreement with the tribes. In addition to sports betting, the tribes are expected to get additional opportunities for new casinos, and games such as craps, baccarat, and roulette.

It’s the sort of deal the California legislature has been trying unsuccessfully to work out with tribal leaders to advance the state’s gambling industry.

Spokesmen from gaming tribes were conspicuously absent from the House hearing. However, lobbyist John MacDonald spoke on behalf of two non-gaming tribes. He explained that Arizona’s smaller tribes support the legislation because it will increase the contributions they receive from gaming.

“This legislation before you today is the product of four-to-five years of work and really reflects input from tribal councils and tribal communities all around the state, large and small,” MacDonald said.

Sports teams see sports betting as part of recovery

It wasn’t long ago that sports teams opposed the expansion of regulated sports betting in the US.

Now the Arizona Diamondbacks and Arizona Coyotes see it as a way to recoup revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic. And also a way of re-engaging with fans who haven’t been able to attend games.

Amilyn Pierce, vice president of government affairs for the Arizona Diamondbacks, recalled how COVID-19 affected Major League Baseball. As a result of the shortened season without fans, the Diamondbacks lost significant dollars and laid off hundreds of employees.

“With the passage of House Bill 2772, the Diamondbacks and our colleagues can tap into a new revenue stream that helps to begin to right the ship as we hopefully return to normalcy,” Pierce said.

Andrew Diss spoke for the Coyotes, Arizona’s NHL team. He noted that sports betting revenue is taking off in states where legal while other sports revenue streams are falling.

“Even though they weren’t able to pack the stands, it was clear that fans were still watching at home and they were placing wagers,” Diss said. “By passing this legislation, you will bring sports betting out of the shadows and allow it to be regulated and taxed in a way that will benefit the state of Arizona, as well as provide some financial relief to the team and all of our employees.”

Representatives from the Arizona Cardinals, PGA Tour, and NASCAR tracks also spoke in support of the legislation.

Details of Arizona sports betting legislation

  • Permits wagering on professional and college sports.
  • Allows for 10 retail and mobile sports betting licenses each for tribal casinos and professional sports entities. This includes the PGA Tour and NASCAR.
  • Limits horse racetracks to 10 retail sports betting licenses.
  • Teams can create a second sportsbook within a quarter-mile of the playing facility.
  • Grants off-track-betting locations and veterans’ clubs the ability to offer keno.
  • Appoints the Arizona Department of Gaming to regulate sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and keno.
  • Sets an 8% tax rate on off-reservation wagering.
  • Requires official league data for in-play wagers.

One obstacle presented at Arizona hearings

While sports teams spoke of how the bill will help their recovery, bars and restaurants said what about us?

“How can it be that in Arizona that only the big players seem to benefit while small businesses operating with restrictions and being asked to operate under reduced capacity for the foreseeable future are not even mentioned in this bill?” said David Delos, president of the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association.

Rep. Diego Espinoza voted for the bill to pass out of committee. But, to continue his support on the floor, he wants bars included.

The Arizona legislative session adjourns April 20.

Photo by AP / Rick Scuteri
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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