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Beat the Heat, Stay in Your Seat: Proposed Sports Betting Expansion in Arizona

By: Riley Williams

Gambling on professional sports from the venues where the games take place could soon be a reality in Arizona. Imagine attending a professional basketball game in downtown Phoenix at Talking Stick Arena. Not only does this alone seem like a miracle after the year the world has just been through, but the fantasy does not end there. Just before tip-off, while sitting in your seat, you place a bet on the outcome of the game from your phone. If House Bill 2772 and Senate Bill 1797 pass in the state legislature, this could happen sooner rather than later.[1]

In 2002, the state government made an agreement with the local Native American tribal leaders, called the Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact (the Compact), that allowed the tribes to essentially run gambling in Arizona.[2] The agreement was that no private non-tribal casinos or gambling operations would be allowed in the state, and that the tribes would share approximately eight percent of gaming revenue with the state government.[3] Sports gambling in Arizona has not been part of the permitted areas of gaming.[4] However, the House and Senate bills would give out new licenses for gambling sites and expand the current restrictions to allow sports betting and fantasy sports gambling.[5] While the exact details are kept confidential, Governor Doug Ducey has been in preliminary negotiations with Arizona’s tribal leaders to allow off-tribal land betting.[6] Ducey’s bargaining chips may include expanding tribal casino’s table games to include craps and roulette and granting licenses for more casinos.[7]

One of the items that is slightly confusing to state representatives is the number of proposed licenses for gambling sites.[8] Arizona has eight professional sports teams, including NFL, NBA, MLS, NHL, and others. The state also has twenty-two Native American Tribes,[9] with eighteen of them involved in the 2002 Compact.[10] H.B. 2772 and S.B. 1797 propose ten licenses going to professional sports teams for on-site gambling, and another ten licenses going to the tribes for more casinos, including in metro Phoenix.[11] It is unclear why there are two more licenses than are necessary for pro sports teams and six fewer than is needed to cover the tribes. The bills would also include ten additional licenses for brick-and-mortar locations to place bets on sporting events.[12]

The bill making its way through the state Senate has staunch supporters and steadfast opposition. The bill was originally shot down, and then added as an amendment to a bill legalizing and regulating historical horse racing.[13] Those opposed to the bill think it might damage the state’s relationship with the tribes, and some have opposed it simply because they think gambling is deplorable.[14] The advocates of SB 1797, including Ducey, love the revenue opportunities that sports betting invites.[15]

Other states have been expanding sports betting recently. In January, the Washington Nationals announced plans to open the first sportsbook at an MLB stadium, and for an app that will allow fans to place bets from their seats at the Nationals’ games.[16] New Jersey recently expanded sports betting and the state raked in over $117 million on bets made on the Kansas City-Tampa Bay Super Bowl alone.[17] Connecticut has a similar gaming compact as Arizona with its local tribes and is closer every day to an agreement to expand sports betting.[18] Wyoming’s House of Representatives voted down a bill to legalize mobile sports betting, only to turn around and vote “yes” the very next day, citing miscommunication.[19]

While the bills have their critics, if a proper deal can be struck where the local tribal leadership is happy, it will be hard to argue against millions of dollars of increased gambling revenue each year. Arizona, especially the Phoenix area, is a sports metropolis, with Cactus League spring training, all the existing pro teams, hosting March Madness, and hosting a Super Bowl in 2023, it is about time that sports betting is expanded, and the teams and the state can benefit from all that moolah. 


[1] S.B. 1797, 55th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 2021), https://www.azleg.gov/legtext/55leg/1r/bills/sb1797p.htm.

[2] Gaming Compact & Statutes: Gaming Compact, Arizona Department of Gaming, https://gaming.az.gov/tribal-gaming/gaming-compact-statutes#:~:text=The%20current%20Arizona%20Tribal%2DState,for%20up%20to%2023%20years. The compact allowed for state inspection of the casinos, revenue sharing, slot machine limits, and table games are to be limited to blackjack and poker. Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5]H.B. 2772, 55th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 2021), https://www.azleg.gov/legtext/55leg/1R/bills/HB2772P.pdf.

[6] Jordan Spurgeon, Placing a bet at Chase Field? Sports gambling in Arizona moves closer to reality, Cronkite News (Mar. 3, 2021), https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2021/03/03/spurgeon-sports-betting-arizona-legislation/.

[7] Id.

[8] Jill R. Dorson, Arizona Sports Betting Bill Continues Limp Forward In Senate, Sports Handle (Feb. 23, 2021), https://sportshandle.com/arizona-sports-betting-hhr/.

[9] American Indian Tribal Lands, Visit Arizona, https://www.visitarizona.com/places/american-indian/ (last visited Mar. 22, 2021).

[10] Dorson, supra note 8.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14]  Ryan Butler, Amended Arizona Sports Betting Legislation Passes Senate Committee with Historic Horse Racing Bill, Action Network (Feb. 23, 2021), https://www.actionnetwork.com/legal-online-sports-betting/amended-arizona-sports-betting-legislation-passes-senate-committee-with-historic-horse-racing-bill.

[15] Id.

[16] Spurgeon, supra note 6.

[17] Dustin Racioppi, Was the Super Bowl a bust? Not for betting in New Jersey. A new record was set., northjersey.com (Feb. 9, 2021), https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2021/02/09/super-bowl-sets-new-jersey-record-sports-betting/4447130001/.

[18] Jill R. Dorson, Connecticut Tribal Leader Says Sports Betting Negotiations In ‘A Pretty Decent Spot’, Sports Handle (Feb. 25, 2021), https://sportshandle.com/connecticut-betting-update-22521/.

[19] Jill R. Dorson, Wyoming Lawmakers Reverse Course As House Approves Sports Betting Bill, Sports Handle (Mar. 10, 2021), https://sportshandle.com/wyoming-lawmakers-reverse-course/.