Legal Sports Betting Inches Forward Through Arizona Legislature

Arizona Senate Building And Sports Betting Background

  • Legal sports betting bill slowly making progress through Arizona legislature
  • Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is a major proponent of legal sports betting
  • Some lawmakers concerned about the potential for conflict of interest that comes with involving pro sports franchises

We can officially add Arizona to the list of states currently considering legalizing sports betting. While there is an awful lot of theatrics and politics involved in the process, legalized sports betting does seem to be inching in the right direction in the Grand Canyon State.

Earlier this week, the Arizona Senate passed a sports betting bill out of the Commerce Committee before ultimately attaching it to another bill, SB 1794. SB 1794 is a horse racing bill with the potential to violate compacts between the state and local Native American tribes, which some in the betting industry deem to be a “poison pill.”

Advocates of legalized sports betting made their arguments before lawmakers on Tuesday. Those in favor, including representatives from a local race track and members of the state’s Licensed Beverage Association argued that SB 1794 doesn’t violate the aforementioned compacts with tribes and that legalizing sports betting all over Arizona is the right path for the state. Ben Isaacson, a member of the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association, said that members of the ALBA have “longed for the opportunity to expand the entertainment opportunities in their businesses.”

Bill Lurches Forward

The Arizona Senate whittled the original sports betting bill down into a 63-page amendment. That amendment would make it legal for operators to offer retail and online sports betting, with internet-based platforms operating in conjunction with tribal casinos and pro sports franchises.

Passing SB 1794 would likely violate the state-tribal compacts that call for Native American tribes to make revenue-sharing payments to the state government. The current deals force tribal casinos to pay as much as eight percent of their gross gaming revenue to state and local jurisdictions every year. In 2020, those casinos paid nearly $46 million to the Arizona Benefits Fund. Tribal casinos have generated upwards of $1.5 billion since 2004, when the Department of Gaming initially began to track the amounts of contributions.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is a proponent of legal sports betting, but the measure seems to be getting bogged down by politics in both state houses of Congress. Tribal leaders also testified in favor of the bills despite the fact that legalization would allow for mobile wagering away from reservations. However, sportsbook operators would be given the green light to team-up with tribes or pro sports franchises if the measure were to pass.

Some in the Senate Commerce Committee were disappointed about being left out of the compacting process when it comes to legalized sports betting. Those lawmakers felt as though they were forced to vote on a bill without knowing all of the details.

Pros and Cons

Where the bill goes from here remains to be seen. Attaching sports betting as an amendment to HHR may wind up dooming the potential for passage during this legislative session. Or, it could merely serve as a temporary roadblock that slows the process.

While many Republicans, including the Governor, support legalized sports betting, not everyone within the state GOP is in agreement. Republican Tyler Pace of Mesa said, “I am opposed to expanding gambling. That is a very difficult thing when this bill is all about expanding gambling.” Pace said that he was uncomfortable voting in favor of the measure without knowing what tribal casinos have planned for casino expansions.

Other lawmakers are concerned about the potential for wrongdoing that comes with involving pro sports teams in the sports betting industry. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale said, “It reeks of conflict of interest.” The Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Coyotes, Arizona Cardinals, and Phoenix Suns are the only four pro sports teams in the state.

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