Sports betting in Arizona edges closer to approval

A bill to allow fans 21 and older to bet on professional sports teams, NASCAR and pro golfing events at venues on and off reservations statewide is advancing with bipartisan support at the Arizona Legislature. 

The bill also could allow electronic keno machines in some fraternal and veterans organizations, fantasy sports league betting, and mobile and online betting, all currently illegal in the state. 

The main sponsor, Rep. Jeff Weninger (R-Chandler), said the measure could generate revenue for the state and tribes and lower the tax burden on citizens and businesses. 

Rep. Jeff Weninger

“It helps with the engagement of the game and with the teams here,” said Rep. Weninger, chair of the House Commerce Committee. “If people are making bets, it helps our revenue in the state and helps businesses in the state with people going out to bars and restaurants.”  

About 20 states now allow sports betting 

A companion bill is now moving through the Senate. If the bill can pass muster there, Arizona would join about 20 states that allow sports betting. 

Revenue generated by sports betting in the U.S. racks up in the billions of dollars on a monthly basis, according to Sports Handle, a betting industry news site. A betting tracker on the site shows that the nationwide record for betting wagers in a single month was $3.3 billion in October.  

Arizona cannot afford to be left out, representatives from Arizona’s major sports teams told lawmakers in hearings last month. 

Amilyn Pierce

“We cannot allow Arizona to fall behind, putting our sports teams at a significant disadvantage in a competitive market,” Amilyn Pierce, vice president of government affairs for the Arizona Diamondbacks told the House Commerce Committee last month. 

What the bill provides

If the bill in Arizona is approved, the measure would:

  • Authorize sports books to be set up in or near some sports stadiums, racetracks and golf courses 
  • Allow Arizona to join 43 other states that allow daily fantasy league betting through online platforms like Draft Kings and FanDuel
  • Allow mobile and online sports betting through licensed platforms like BetMGM
  • Authorize the installation of electronic keno games at some fraternal and veterans’ organizations 
  • Authorize Indian tribes to operate fantasy sports betting and event wagering through mobile platforms available for off-reservation use

Sports teams, tribes, elected officials support the measure

The measure has support from major professional sports teams in the state, most of the tribes and many elected officials including Gov. Doug Ducey. 

Sports teams and tribes support the legislation for the financial boost it will provide, particularly with the pandemic squeezing their bottom line. 

Tribal gaming already provides more than $100 million a year in tax revenue for the state and millions of dollars annually for cities and towns, according to the state Department of Gaming. The funds go for a variety of uses including education, trauma and emergency services, the state Tourism Fund, and the Arizona Wildlife Conservation Fund. 

Measure passes House, now in Senate 

Last week, the House of Representatives approved the bill, House Bill 2772, by a 48-12 vote. A companion bill, Senate Bill 1797, is moving through the Senate. At the first hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee, SB 1797 was approved by a 6-3 vote.  

If approved by the full Senate and the governor, the bill would authorize 10 licensees to set up sports books in or near stadiums, racetracks and golf courses. Ten licenses would also go to tribes that could open new casinos and set up their own sportsbooks, according to the legislation.  

Updates Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compacts

The new legislation would supersede the state’s Tribal-State Gaming Compacts of 2002, which gave tribes most of the control over gaming in the state. Sports betting was not allowed under the compacts.

If approved, a years-long effort by Gov. Ducey to negotiate a new pact with the tribes would finally come to fruition. 

At the House hearing last week, Stephen Roe Lewis, the governor of the Gila River Indian Community said that 18 of the state’s 22 tribes support the sports betting bill as part of the compact.

Bars and restaurants left out  

Restaurants and bars feel left out as there are no provisions to allow them to offer sports betting. 

At a hearing of the House Commerce Committee last month, several representatives, including Rep. Diego Espinoza, expressed support for bars and restaurants to be included in the bill. 

Currently, there are few states, if any, that offer that option.

Supporters of sports betting in Arizona

Sports teams, tribes and other organizations are in support of the two companion bills including:

  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Arizona Coyotes
  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Phoenix Raceway 
  • PGA Tour
  • Navajo Nation
  • Tohono O’Odham Nation
  • Gila River Indian Community 
  • Colorado River Indian Tribes 
  • Salt-River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
  • Hualapai Tribe 
  • Pascua Yaqui Tribe
  • Cocopah Indian Tribe 
  • Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation
  • Arizona Indian Gaming Association
  • Arizona Licensed Beverage Association
  • City of Avondale
  • BetMGM
  • Draft Kings
  • FanDuel 

To see full text of bill passed by the house, visit House Bill 2772

Victoria Harker

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