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Arizona Online Sports Betting Bill Set for Final Vote, Lawmakers Say

Arizona Online Sports Betting Bill Set for Final Vote, Lawmakers Say article feature image

Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images. Pictured: Replica of Liberty Bell in front of Arizona State Capitol Building at sunrise.

Arizona’s long-stalled online sports betting legislation is set for a critical up-or-down vote next Monday that key lawmakers believe will legalize legal, statewide mobile wagering.

Sen. T.J. Shope told the Action Network Thursday the full Arizona Senate is set to vote on the bill April 12 and was confident there would be enough votes for it to pass. The legislation would permit up to 20 online sports betting licenses and also legalize daily fantasy sports as well as electronic keno.

The House already passed Rep. Jeff Weninger’s online sports betting bill with a bipartisan 48-12 vote last month. Shope, who sponsored a companion bill in the Senate, believes the House bill will pass the Senate floor with similar support, clearing the way for Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature as early as next week.

Politics Stall Arizona Sports Betting

Despite outspoken support from Ducey, the state’s gaming tribes, major professional sports teams and top national sportsbooks, the House sports betting bill stalled in the Senate for more than a month.

Sen. Dave Gowan, the influential former state House speaker and current Senate Appropriations Chair, inserted historic horse racing (HHR) legalization into the original sports betting legislation, jeopardizing legal wagering’s passage. The tribes said the HHR terminals, which allow bets on previously conducted races and function like slot machines, would violate their exclusive rights to such offerings and jeopardize larger gaming agreements.

Sportsbook operators said they wouldn’t support any bill the tribes opposed. HHR legalization also threatened a new compact Ducey and the tribes had worked on for years that was reportedly near completion.

The Senate’s online sports betting bill with HHR language narrowly passed out of Gowan’s Appropriations Committee last month but hasn’t received a floor vote. Sources told the Action Network Senate President Karen Fann and other proponents worked for weeks behind the scenes to circumvent Gowan’s opposition and bring the industry’s preferred bill to the floor.

Republicans hold narrow majorities in both chambers but were divided between standalone sports betting supporters such as Ducey and Fann against HHR proponents such as Gowan, meaning the GOP needed Democratic support to pass the bill. Democratic leaders in both chambers had questioned tribes’ role in the sports betting negotiations, digital security measures and a host of other issues during prior deliberations, but had reportedly come around to support the bill in recent days, according to the Arizona Republic.

Weininger has also included “emergency regulations” with the bill, which could expedite the launch process but requires two-thirds supermajority support. The House already cleared the bill with that margin, but still needs 20 of the Senate’s 30 members to pass under the emergency proposal. Weininger said during a Fox Sports radio interview Friday the bill could still pass into law with simple majority support but it would delay sportsbooks’ launch.

Shope tweeted confirmation Thursday that lawmakers had cleared the political quagmire, posting a picture alongside himself and former long-time Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan. The Coyotes would be eligible to open an online and retail sportsbook if the bill passes.

Bill Details

If passed, the state would permit as many as 20 statewide online sports betting licenses, allowing any eligible bettors age 21 and up physically within state lines to place a bet with a legal sportsbook from their mobile device. Arizona would be the first state to evenly split its online licenses between its Native American gaming tribes and professional sports teams.

The state’s gaming tribes would split 10 online and retail licenses. If a certain tribe had multiple brick-and-mortar gaming facilities, it could open retail sportsbooks at each and only count as one license.

Along with the Coyotes, other leading professional sports organizations and venues such as the Arizona Diamondbacks, TPC Scottsdale golf course and the Phoenix Raceway testified in support of the sports betting bill during legislative hearings. These organizations, as well as the Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns, could all open online as well as retail sportsbooks in their physical home stadiums and certain adjacent commercial properties.

Lawmakers said the other four professional sports licenses could be given to Arizona teams in other leagues such as Major League Soccer, and could be a way to entice an out-of-state team to relocate. Certain other entities such as horse tracks and off-track betting facilities could also earn retail-only sportsbooks.

Arizona could be just the third jurisdiction to approve in-stadium sportsbooks, after Washington D.C. and Illinois. Maryland lawmakers are also set to vote on an in-stadium sportsbook bill next Monday.

Top sportsbooks including DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM all lobbied for the bill. These books, as well as other national brands such as PointsBet, BetRivers, Caesars/William Hill and Penn National’s Barstool Sportsbook will all likely seek market entry.

Several top sportsbook brands already have deals with the aforementioned professional sports leagues or individual teams in other states. Arizona is the 14th-most populated state, with a young and growing population and multiple high-profile professional and college sports teams, setting up the potential for one of the nation’s more lucrative sports betting markets.

Arizona officials estimate legal wagering could draw several billion dollars in annual handle, generating a projected $42 million in annual tax revenues at market maturity.

Next Steps

The online sports betting bill must first land on the Senate floor, but backers are increasingly confident they can clear any further logistical or legislative hurdles. If granted a straightforward yes-or-no vote next Monday, supporters say the bill could be on Ducey’s desk and signed into law by the end of the week.

The Arizona Department of Gaming would then need to promulgate further rules on eligible events and bet types, and then approve each sportsbook. If the Senate clears the two-thirds emergency threshold, Lawmakers are hoping this process could conclude by summer or early fall, allowing sports betting to begin ahead of the 2021 football season.

The bill also clears the way for Ducey and the tribes to finalize a sweeping gaming compact that would guarantee at least one more Phoenix-area casino and other expanded gaming options. Arizona, one of the few remaining states without legal DFS, would also be able to license daily fantasy operators.

Work remains, but with many key supporters and lawmakers now seemingly aligned, proponents are more confident than ever legal wagering will pass in 2021 and potentially launch before the end of the year.

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