Arizona looking to cash in on sports betting market

Posted at 6:50 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 20:20:46-04

4/12/21 Update: On Monday, the AZ State Legislature fast-tracked S1797, which would legalize sports betting, into a vote on the Senate floor. The other sports betting bill in the house, HB 2772, is identical to the Senate bill, and will also require Senate approval before heading to Governor Doug Ducey's desk.

-------------------- Original story below ------------------------

Between $8.5 and $10 billion was legally bet on the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament this year. Next year, Arizona is hoping for a piece of that action.

Watching a Phoenix Suns game do you ever think how many assists Chris Paul will have that night? What about how many points Devin Booker scores or rebounds he grabs? Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley has. “We’re excited to see what that opportunity might present for us,” Rowley said.

Legalized sports betting is very close to happening in Arizona, with two bills currently in the legislature. At this point, only one needs to be approved by the State Senate, and then it’s basically a done deal.

“I don’t think we’re talking about in the $10s of millions. We’re talking about in the $100s of millions,” says State Representative Jeff Weninger, (R) Chandler District 17, and a sponsor of one the sports wagering bills.

All the money Weninger is talking about is just the state’s cut. Weninger’s bill passed through the House with a strong 48-12 vote. In his version, the tribes, who are currently negotiating a new gaming compact with the state, will be able to expand betting opportunities at their casinos to include event wagering and fantasy sports.

Weninger says the tribes will vie for 10 sports betting licenses. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals, Suns, and Arizona Coyotes will be granted licenses. So will the Phoenix Open and NASCAR.

“From our perspective, this is something we view as a way to engage additional fans,” the Suns Jason Rowley said.

In 2018 The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law making it illegal to prevent states from allowing sports betting. Since then, 25 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico legalized it.

Arizona is one of a dozen states considering it.

“None of this money goes into benefits for all the community, all of Arizona that all citizens benefit from,” said Tucson State Senator Sally Gonzales, who is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Her tribe supports sports betting, and the Senator does not.

For starters, Gonzales says all the money the state will receive goes directly into the general fund.

“I believe this money will be used for more tax cuts,” Gonzales says, “not only tax cuts for the rich, the governor’s proposed moving the state to a zero income tax state.”

Gonzales says the proceeds Arizona receives should go to fund education, cities, and municipalities and help the impoverished rural Native American communities left out of the original compact.

“The real losers will be 17 rural tribes who probably can’t afford these licenses,” Gonzales said.

Senator Gonzales has a problem as well with betting on college sports. The state’s three universities also oppose the sports wagering bills.

But on the subject of sports wagering, there are few voices like Senator Gonzales’ at the legislature, at the local sports bar, or at home.

"The amount of calls and emails I get saying 'please get this done' has been astonishing," said Representative Weninger.

Senator Gonzales has no allusion that sports betting will be legal in Arizona, sooner rather than later. But she is hoping lawmakers will consider three amendments she plans to introduce, one that prohibits betting on college sports, one that will divert money to education, cities and municipalities, and the rural tribes, and a third that grants all of the 23 federally recognized tribes sports betting licenses.