Arizona to embrace sports betting in deal with native tribes

Arizonans would be allowed to bet on professional and college sports at tribal casinos and at sites owned by pro sports teams under a proposal that is part of an update to the state’s deal that allows Native American tribes to run casinos.

The wide-ranging proposal introduced in the Arizona House on Monday would also allow bets to be placed online, fantasy sports wagering, and add limited Keno games at off-track betting locations and social clubs like the American Legion.

"The places it will be allowed is in the casinos, and then, there will be licenses given to the sports teams like the [Arizona Cardinals], [Phoenix Suns], [Arizona Coyotes], and also within a quarter-mile, they will have it in retail locations," said State Rep. Jeff Weninger.

The proposal introduced by Republican Rep. Jeff Weninger of Chandler has been anticipated since GOP Gov. Doug Ducey announced "an opportunity for a modernized gaming compact that will bring in more revenue for our tribal nations and our state budget," in his State of the State address last month. Ducey has been working on a new deal with tribes for several years, hoping it can boost state revenue by allowing gambling outside of tribal-run casinos.

"It helps with the engagement of the game, with the teams here," said State Rep. Weninger. "If people are making fun little bets and it helps our revenue in the state, helps businesses in the state, people are watching, going out to bars and restaurants."

The biggest part of the plan would allow pro sports teams like the Phoenix Coyotes, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Arizona Cardinals run sports betting operations at their respective venues, at a retail location within a quarter-mile and online. There would be 10 licenses awarded to sports, which could include professional golf and even NASCAR, Weninger said.

Tribes would also get 10 licenses and could run sports books at two dozen tribal casinos in the state.

The tribes, which have fiercely protected their exclusive right to most gambling in the state under the gaming compact approved by the state’s voters in 2002, get the right to build some new casinos under an updated deal. And in a big win, they would also be allowed to greatly expand their exclusive gambling offerings, adding games like Baccarat and craps to existing offerings of slot machines, blackjack, and poker.

And there are options for online gambling as well, allowing growing online gambling sites like Draft Kings to piggyback on the licenses.

Fantasy sports gambling also is embraced by Weninger’s proposal. The state would allow any company that meets it standards to run fantasy sports gambling operations.

Both the legislation and a 20-year extension of the state’s gaming compact with tribes must be adopted for either to go into effect.

Getchen Conger, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff, said the deal will help tribes and pro sports teams that have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. And the plan is certain to boost state revenue, but it will take some time for the amount to become clear, especially revenue from gambling on sporting events.

"This is the million-dollar question," Conger said. "It really depends on what the uptake is on the event wagering."

The state gets a cut of the gambling profit, which will go to the general fund. Money from tribal gaming goes to special state accounts and local governments. In the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2020, tribes brought in nearly $2 billion in gambling revenue and the state received $102 million, according to a Department of Gaming report, while cities received $13 million.

Recovering gambler speaks out on proposal

On Feb. 3, FOX 10 spoke with a recovering gambler who said that sports betting is a slippery slope.

"It's a dangerous place for Arizona to go," said the recovering gambler, identified only as 'Harv.' "Might be an easy place to find extra money, but it's definitely going to be a lot of pain to a lot of people."

Harv's gambling addiction began when he was 15.

"I would bet on every game I could," said Harv. "I couldn't stop."

Harv, however, says he hopes if the proposal passes, the state will provide resources for those who may fall into an addiction.

"Sounds like fun, and it's easy to bet on your team and double down when you win and double down again, but at some point, you will lose," said Harv.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report

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