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Arizona Sports Betting Bill Issues
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Arizona Sports Betting Bill Issues

by Asa AgnoliFebruary 26, 2021

Arizona Sports Betting Bill: “Nothing is easy” is a fitting quote to define what seems to be happening in the Arizona Senate when it comes to their sports betting bill. The Bill was moved to the Appropriations Committee after starting in the Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

Once in the Appropriations committee, the pending sports betting bill was changed to a 63 page Amendment to the Historical Horse Racing Bill that was also on the agenda for Tuesday.

This, in effect, merged the two bills which are now combined into SB1794. This action by the Appropriations Committee seems to have upset and confused many.

The original sports betting bill allowed for retail and statewide sports wagering, with their mobile components, for 10 tribal casinos and 10 professional sports venues and or operators.

According to Representative Gowan who is the State Senate Chair of the Appropriations Committee, in combining the 2 bills he wanted to also put forth the importance of horse racing as well as sports betting.

“ I think we need to talk about these other areas such as historical horse racing that will bring in well over $100 million itself and that would go into the general fund…”

In opposition to this action, Senator Shope has expressed that he believes Gowan is trying to destroy the sports betting bill to help racetracks.

The Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, has indicated that he wants to “modernize” the existing gaming compact that currently exists between the State of Arizona and gaming tribal casinos in an effort to bring in more revenue for the both the Tribal Nations and the State Budget.

Before merging with the Sports Betting Bill, the Historical Horse Racing Bill sought to allow the State’s 3 horse tracks to install historic horse racing terminals at their sites in addition to off-track betting sites.

The gaming tribes are opposed to this and have expressed that this would be a violation of their gaming rights under their existing exclusive compact with the State that originated in 2002.

If the compact is violated, Arizona’s Tribes would no longer have to abide by their revenue-sharing payments to the State. The impact of that loss to the State of Arizona would be huge.

For example, in 2020 Tribal casinos contributed more than $45 million to State Funds. Since 2004 it is estimated that the Tribes have paid somewhere around $1.5 billion to the State of Arizona Benefits Fund.

As I understand it, the thought is that by amending the Historical Horse Racing Bill to include the Sports Betting Bill as an Amendment, would theoretically prevent the triggering of a violation of the 2002 gaming compact with the Tribal casinos.

The theory is that because pari-mutuel gambling was legal at the time of signing the compact in 2002 any pari-mutuel expansion to a Horse Racing Bill would be legal too.

This argument does not make much sense. Some say that everything that is happening around this sports betting bill is political. Many believe that attaching the Sports Betting Bill to the Historical Horse Racing Bill would significantly slow down the process for passing sports betting legislation.

This is seen by some as a way to exert power over the Governor who wants to “modernize” the gaming compact between the Tribal casinos and the State.

If negotiations with the Tribal casinos expands their gaming options,giving them the ability to run sports book out of their existing casinos, grants them additional casino(s) and gives them the ability to run mobile platforms and retail sports book, the thought is that they won’t object to expanding gaming opportunities for others because they will be increasing their revenue.

Therefore the Casinos will win and so will the many businesses that want to be able to participate in wagering within the State as well as the State of Arizona itself.

There is a House Bill that is similar to the original Senate Sports Betting Bill introduced into the Senate Commerce Committee. That bill was approved by the House Commerce Committee fairly easily.

That Bill allows wagers to be placed on-line, includes daily fantasy sports betting and some gaming at off-track betting locations. The Bill additionally allows the four Arizona major professional sports teams to run sports betting as well as licensing other sports entities like PGA golf and NASCAR.

This would be in addition to allowing this at Tribal Casinos as well.

So while there are bills moving through both the House and the Senate that would allow sports betting to run through Tribal casinos and professional sports franchises or venues, there are some hurdles. The House bill is expected to be passed by the House sometime before March 10th.

The Senate may be a different story. Some predict that attaching the Sports Betting Bill as an Amendment to the Horse Racing Bill in the Senate will serve as a temporary roadblock to a bill passing out of the Senate. Although these bills are moving forward Arizona may struggle to see new legislation in 2021.

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About The Author
Asa Agnoli