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Major League Soccer was on State Rep. Jeff Weninger’s mind when the sponsor of Arizona’s new sports betting law wrote professional sports teams into the legislation. Now — with 10 licenses and multiple betting partners soon at hand for pro sports teams and other select facilities and promoters — the MLS is taking notice. 

MLS Commissioner Don Garber reiterated at a news conference on April 12 (which was, ironically, the same day that Arizona sports betting passed the state legislature) that the MLS is looking at putting an expansion team in Phoenix — a city that has been on the MLS shortlist for years

Garber’s announcement came just days before the Phoenix Rising FC opened its 2021 USL Championship regular season at a new stadium at Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass. The 10,000-seat venue offers improved VIP suites and additional training fields that weren’t found at the team’s former stadium, Casino Arizona Field. 

It all seems to be part of a long-range plan for Weninger, who told Gaming Today this afternoon that legislation — which he and Arizona Sen. TJ Shope worked together to pass in the 2021 legislative session — will maximize sports betting to draw pro teams, tourneys, and conferences to the Grand Canyon State. 

Sports Betting And Beyond

Weninger said it’s the “ancillary effects” of the legislation — including a possible MLS expansion into Arizona — that he’s really excited about. 

“Do we get an MLS team, because an MLS team now … All of the sudden it’s not just ‘hey, do you want to go play in beautiful Arizona? Yeah, it’s a little hot.’ It’s like, ‘hey, yeah, you move a team here, you’ve got a good chance at getting a sports betting license,’” the Chandler lawmaker told Gaming Today

Fans in Arizona will be able to bet on sports with their phones statewide and on-site at a licensed facility, whether it be at an MLB stadium, NBA arena, or some other league, including a (possible) future MLS stadium. PGA and NASCAR facilities or promoters will also be able to apply for a license, with 10 commercial licenses available — each allowing partnerships with multiple sportsbooks, pending any private exclusivity agreements. 

Pro sports teams in Arizona are taking notice of the legislation: partnerships have already been announced between the Diamondbacks and Caesar’s, and between the Phoenix Suns and FanDuel, in anticipation of licensing later in 2021.

DraftKings has also signed on, announcing that it will be operating a year-round sportsbook at the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open course in Scottsdale. More announcements are expected soon. 

Ten licenses will also go to Arizona’s tribes, which will be able to partner with sportsbooks to offer in-person and mobile betting tethered to their casinos. “By virtue of having a retail license at the casinos, an extension of that is online sports betting,” says Weninger. 

The bill itself includes in the definition of “event wagering operator” an Arizona Indian tribe or designee “licensed to operate only mobile event wagering outside the boundaries of its Indian lands and throughout this state if it has signed the most recent tribal-state gaming compact and any applicable appendices or amendments.” 

Next Steps

Arizona’s sports betting legislation will take effect as soon as a tribal gaming compact tied to the legislation is cleared in Washington, D.C. That could happen by late June or early July, Weninger hopes. The next step would be licensing by the Arizona Department of Gaming. 

Weninger is hopeful that sports betting will be live in Arizona by NFL kick-off in early September. 

“I hope to be, if not the first, one of the first people to put down a future bet on the Arizona Cardinals come early September. Maybe I’ll go around to each lodge and put down a different future bet on each team. But I’m excited to get it going,” he said.

Arizona sports betting under the 2021 legislation is projected to bring about $15 million to $16 million in state revenue into Arizona in the first year or so, if not more. Weninger said he thinks that amount could reach $100 million by the second or third year. 

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Legislative Writer
Based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region, Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, Hanchett has been known to watch UK. basketball from time to time.

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