Arizona Sports Betting Bill Filed to Authorize Tribal Wagering

Arizona has joined the list of states considering sports betting legislation in 2019. Earlier today, Senator Sonny Borrelli filed SB 1158 seeking to authorize the state’s Indian Tribes to offer sports wagering in casinos and install betting kiosks in locations with a bar license, beer and wine bar license or a private club license.

Hat tip to state lobbyist Steve Brubaker for finding the bill first.

Under SB 1158, Arizona’s gaming tribes would have the exclusive right to offer sports betting, although they will be permitted to enter lease or rental agreements with other people who have one of the required licenses to place betting kiosks on their premises.

The bill also calls for the Arizona Department of Gaming “in a manner that is consistent with the regulation of tribal gaming” in the state. Some details in this bill are still hazy, such as whether or not SB 1158 allows prop wagers on individual athletes in team sports.

SB 1158 defines a legal sports wager as betting on “the score, point total, point spread or performance of a team in a team sport or on the score, point total, point spread or performance of an individual athlete in a non-team sport.”

Upon a closer read, that provision appears to specifically exclude betting on the performances of individual athletes in team sports. If that’s the intention, SB 1158 would preclude most prop bets.

The bill’s definition of sports betting also excludes “wagering on sporting events that is prohibited by the national collegiate athletic association.” Online and mobile sports betting is not mentioned in the bill.

Senator Borelli is listed as the bill’s prime sponsor. Representatives Mark Finchem and Leo Biasiucci are both listed as co-sponsors.

Arizona Sports Betting a Surprise?

That a sports betting bill would drop in Arizona may come as a surprise to some considering it is one of the few states that still prohibit daily fantasy sports and online horse racing betting. DraftKings, FanDuel, BetAmerica, TwinSpires and others all avoid the Arizona market due to the state’s restrict online gaming laws.

However, there have been numerous indications over the past year that attitudes towards sports betting in Arizona may not be as opposed as one might think just by looking at the dearth of fantasy sports and horse racing sites.

One indication was Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s statement praising the Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal sports betting ban last year. He called it “positive news” and said the decision gives the state “options that could benefit our citizens and our general fund.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich also applauded the decision. Brnovich, former director of the Arizona Department of Gaming, had previously penned an op-ed and contributed to an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to allow states the right to regulate sports betting as they see fit.

Tucson.com reported last year that the governor was already negotiating with Arizona’s gaming tribes to modernize their gaming compacts. According to Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, the state is considering offering the tribes exclusive control over sports betting in return for giving the sate a bigger share of gaming proceeds.

SB 1158 appears at first glance to line right up with that proposal as it gives Indian tribes the exclusive right to operate sports betting kiosks throughout the state and specifically states “no other person or entity may operate sports betting.”

Current gaming compacts between the state and tribes designate anywhere from 1 to 8% of their gaming revenue each year to the state, cities, towns and counties in which tribal casinos are located.

This bill also seems likely to gain the support of at least some tribal groups. In 2018, the Navajo Nation’s attorney said he thinks “the Navajo Nation is very interested in sports betting and in finding ways to expand their casino offerings.”

With at least three state reps, the governor, attorney general and Navajo Nation all on the same page (or at least in the same ballpark), Arizona’s sports betting proponents do have a legitimate shot at legalization.

Dealing with the existing gaming compacts between the state and tribes will be a complicating factor here, but how much of a hurdle that actually ends up being will depend entirely on how negotiations go between the state and tribes.