To bet or not to bet

About 18 states are moving quickly to permit some form of sports gaming in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a law prohibiting states other than Nevada from legalizing betting on college and professional sports.

Some experts predict up to 32 states will pass some form of sports betting within the next five years. Arizona could be one of them.

State lawmakers would have to adopt legislation allowing sports betting and would have to decide whether to restrict betting to casinos or open it up to places like sports bars, resorts, racetracks, off-track betting sites, phone apps, and online.

Now is the time for Arizona to jump in, says state Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu), who favors limited sports betting in adult venues like sports bars, racetracks, and off-track betting sites. He says legalized sports wagering would increase tourism and pump up state revenues.

“I’m a retired Marine and we have a saying, ‘What you leave for the enemy makes them stronger’,” Borrelli said. “Losing billions of dollars to other states and even offshore is not going to make us stronger.”

“Arizona is a blank canvas and (sports gaming) can be done systematically and tailor made,” said Borelli, who sponsored a bill during the last legislative session to create a state lottery Keno game to raise money for full-day kindergarten and teacher raises. The bill failed to reach the governor’s desk .

Sports gaming advocates might encounter a friendlier political environment following the high court’s May decision.

Gov. Doug Ducey has said he’s open to expanded sports gaming in Arizona, while Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich cheered the Supreme Court’s move.

Indian tribes with gaming operations are assessing the impact sports wagering could have on their revenues and profit sharing with the state, which amounts to about $100 million a year.

The Arizona Indian Gaming Association in a press release said sports betting should be safe and regulated, be “consistent with tribal government gaming exclusivity,” and generate “much needed revenue for the tribes and the state.”

Gov. Ducey will have to weigh whether to push for expanded gaming quickly or wait until it’s time to start renegotiating tribal gaming compacts, which start to expire in 2022.

Various industry groups are looking at the issue, getting feedback from members, and deciding where they will stand.

“We’re just starting to dig into the legalities,” said Dan Bogert, chief operating officer of the Arizona Restaurant Association, whose members include restaurants and sports bars. “We’re starting to analyze this and see what restaurant associations are doing in other states.”

Victoria Harker

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