More signs indicate Arizona is swiftly headed toward legalizing sports wagering in the state. Another positive and necessary indicator occurred last week.
On Thursday, the Arizona House passed a sports betting bill by a wide margin, sending the proposal to the Senate and building further hope that sports betting could potentially come to Arizona sometime later this year.
House Bill 2772 has been drawing plenty of discussion and debate over the past few weeks. The House overwhelmingly approved HB 2772 by a vote of 48-12. The House Rules Committee approved HB 2772 earlier in February by a 9-1 vote with this piece of legislation gaining in bi-partisan support. There will likely be some opposition in the Senate, but most lawmakers believe that there is enough support to get this bill to Governor Doug Ducey’s desk.
It was a relief for many as some Democrats in the Arizona House on Thursday raised transparency and fairness questions about a major expansion of gambling that Arizona Republican Gov. Ducey needs as part of his thus-far secret deal with Native American tribes to update their gambling compact.
Passage of the legislation is tied to the updated gaming compact Ducey has struck with tribes but not released to the public. The very favorable vote in the Arizona House has bolstered supporter’s hope of the new bill and that sports wagering legalization is sure to occur for the state.
While several Arizona legislators have united on the concept of legalizing sports wagering, there is some dissent on how it should be done and what specific elements should be included.
Tucson Democratic Rep. Randall Friese said:
I’m very opposed to the linkage of this bill to the enactment of the compact. This body has no role in the renegotiation of the gaming compact. This administration has now given us a role in this process. I object to that.
Friese continues on to say that Gov. Ducey should have instead had the tribal gaming compacts completed and then requested lawmakers approve new gambling outside of tribal casinos. He raised concerns about security leaks surrounding the deal Ducey negotiated with the Arizona tribes and noting that the terms were not released publicly.
Rep. Reginald Bolding (D), a member of the Education & Ways and Means Committees supported the measure. But mentioned he’s worried that 10 sports gambling operator licenses are set aside for sports organizations with no set fees and no opportunity for any other group to potentially bid on the lucrative licenses. Though Bolding conceded that sports teams like the Arizona Cardinals do excellent work in the community.
Sponsor of HB 2772, Republican Rep. Jeff Weninger, said major sports teams contribute to the community and have the financial ability to operate sports betting operations. He commented:
We wanted people who were financially solvent that we knew were going to be here. I am assuming, hoping that the state Department of Gaming sets fees that are fair.
The biggest part of the plan going forward would allow pro sports teams like the Phoenix Coyotes, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Arizona Cardinals to run sports betting operations at their respective venues. Or at a retail location within a quarter-mile of the facilities and online. There would be 10 licenses awarded to pro sports teams, which could include professional golf and also potentially NASCAR.
Bonding together the entire process involving sports wagering and also allowing for online wagering is a complicated process that needs further work and first, cooperation from Arizona’s Native American tribes.
The Arizona Senate has not made much progress in February and March working on Senate Bill 1794 for sports wagering including several amendment changes. That bill also focused on historic horse racing and wanted to include more groups into sports betting. It brought opposition from Native American tribes as they believe that it will cut into their potential revenue.
Some tribes in the state have threatened to stop the current gaming compact negotiations with the state based on the introduction of SB 1794. That would likely have a spillover effect on HB 2772 as well.
Like many other states, the primary goal for Arizona legislators is focused upon raising necessary tax dollars for education and relief during the prolonged crisis time of COVID-19. Rep. Bolding added:
If we’re going to generate $50 or $100 million, we probably should have a plan on where we’re going to put those dollars. We know our teachers need pay raises, we know we have a crisis in our health care, so we have to come up with a plan.
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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.
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