Some Disappointment in Arizona as Legal Sports Wagering is Tabled Until 2021

Arizona Sports Wagering Tabled Until 2021

  • The decision ruled by Arizona legislators tabling any sports wagering discussion until 2021
  • Unification among Native American tribes in the state including Navajo Nation is necessary
  • The issue of introducing online gambling will be an important issue to be included

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As several states anticipate the upcoming November election to determine their fortune for legalized sports wagering, Arizona has decided to wait until next year to evaluate moving forward on the issue. By number, Arizona is one of 28 US states that have not yet passed legislation for legalized sports wagering.

A bill that would have legalized land-based sportsbooks, Senate Bill 1525, with exclusive rights going to Native American tribes, was introduced in the Legislature in February, but it didn’t make it out of committee. As in neighboring New Mexico, there are important issues needing to be worked out with the tribes and their inherent compacts.

Arizona House Bill 2813 was introduced in March, allowing both commercial and tribal casinos to offer sports betting. The bill did make it out of committee, although it was gaining significant traction prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the US.  An agreement was made among lawmakers to renew the discussion later in 2020, however other bills were consuming time. A consensus decision was then made to table the bill until 2021.

Hurdles to Passage

“There is a good, happy medium where we are not stepping on tribal toes,” said state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who co-sponsored the bill. “Because it could be done in such a way where everybody should be able to share and everybody could prosper.”

The main hurdle to passage is the Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact, which voters narrowly passed by a 51% margin in 2002.

Borrelli said:

You have to have all the tribes in the gaming compact agree and sign off on to anything additional or expansion in the compact, they all have to agree. It comes down to the gaming compact and how flexible it is. The first step is getting the tribes to be on board with it, and then you have to go through the state side of it.

Currently, each of the 22 federally recognized Arizona tribes in Arizona maintains a Tribal-State Gaming Compact and all 22 Compacts are substantially identical. Additionally, Navajo Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe that has a Tribal-State Gaming Compact.

Several Arizona officials believe the legalizing of sports betting statewide would be worth overcoming any obstacles. State Rep. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, has been working with Borrelli to highlight the benefits legal sports betting can bring to the state. “It would be another source of revenue for the state,” Pierce said. “A lot of people want it (sports gambling); they’re doing it anyway.”

Another main facet to be discussed is online gambling. Arizona is one of seven US states without online sports wagering through major companies such as DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel or BetMGM. No current sports wagering proposal has yet mentioned online gambling. With states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania recently reporting near 90% thresholds of online wagering usage, any new discussion that does not include online gaming does not seem feasible.

At this juncture, it appears likely Arizona will begin seriously discussing legalizing sports betting early in 2021 and almost certain that online wagering will be a forefront issue. As in other states facing these hurdles, full cooperation and unification of the major Native American tribes including the Navajo Nation will be paramount to passage.

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: larry.gibbs@wsn.com