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Arizona State Rep. Jeff Weninger met on the air with Phoenix sports radio’s Jody Oehler the week before Super Bowl LV to talk NFL picks and sports betting. 

It had been two days since Weninger filed HB 2772 to legalize Arizona sports betting and expand gaming in the State of Arizona. Now, the proposal is moving closer to a vote on the floor of the state House. Passage there would give the bill a shot at Senate approval, moving the measure a step closer to becoming law.

That is terrific news for Arizonans who have waited years to make more than a friendly wager on sports without traveling out of state. It’s also a proposed win for tribal casinos and pro sports teams that could increase profits by running sportsbooks in the state, both in-person and online through mobile apps.

Add proposed legalization of daily fantasy sports wagering and more gaming at fraternal organizations, and the measure seems like a sure thing – maybe.

Arizona’s Gaming Landscape

A wrinkle in any bill to legalize sports betting in Arizona is a federally-required gaming compact with 16 tribal nations that own and operate tribal casinos in the state.

The Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact – now being renegotiated between Gov. Doug Ducey and each of the tribes – essentially dictates what new and expanded gaming can take place both on- and off-reservation in the state. That means Weninger’s bill, should it pass, cannot take effect until a new compact between the state and each tribal nation is approved by the federal government.

Sound complicated? A little bit. But don’t let it fool you. Gaming compacts between Arizona’s tribal nations and the state have been at work for nearly 30 years.

The Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact

The first of the compacts were signed in 1992. Today, there are 25 tribal casinos operating under gaming compacts renegotiated with the state in 2002 and 2003.

All tribal nations in Arizona have a gaming compact that grants them “exclusive rights” in gaming, including exclusive rights to run slots and casino-style games. A percentage of their gaming revenue goes to the state. And it’s pretty substantial.

In Fiscal Year 2020, the State of Arizona reaped $102 million from tribal gaming operations. This year also looks promising, with tribal gaming contributions to the state reaching $31.7 million in the second quarter of FY 2021.

Some tribes see growth potential in adding choice table games like Baccarat and craps to their offerings. Others would like a chance to add more casinos. But neither of these things can happen outside of a new compact. Neither can sports betting, which not all tribes have been quick to support. 

Early Sports Betting Proposals

The Navajo Nation entered the Arizona Legislature’s sports-betting fray in 2019 after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for the legalization of sportsbooks in states outside Nevada.  

The proposal backed by the Navajo would have allowed off-reservation sports betting at tribal-controlled kiosks. Navajo officials saw the bill, in part, as a mechanism to offset losses from the subsequent closure of two of its major employers.

But other tribes weren’t as keen on the proposal. At least two – the San Carlos Apache Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation – said changes backed by the Navajo Nation should instead be dictated by tribal gaming compact.  

Opposition to the bill eventually won out, yet sports-betting proponents didn’t give up. They regrouped in 2020 with another sports-gaming bill and high hopes for its passage. But that effort, like so many others last year, was derailed by the pandemic.

Next Steps

Weninger is optimistic that 2021 will be the year that sports betting comes to Arizona. Negotiations with Gov. Ducey have encouraged tribal nations to rally around the proposal, the lawmaker said. Pro sports teams are also on board.  

Now, sports-betting proponents just need to get Weninger’s bill – or similar legislation filed by Arizona State Sen. T.J. Strope – through the full House and Senate and into the governor’s hands before the current legislative session ends in late April.  

Conditional enactment of the legislation pending federal compact approval could clear the way for sportsbooks to open in Arizona by late this summer, says Weninger. Betting on baseball could be legal by August, he said, with wagering on NFL games open by September.

That should make betting in the Grand Canyon State a lot more interesting by the time Super Bowl LVI rolls around next year.

About the Author
Amber Hoffman

Amber Hoffman

Amber is the Managing Editor of Gaming Today. She writes for a variety of websites in diverse industries, including gaming and travel and is a fan of international football (not "soccer") and Gaelic sports.

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