Arizona Sports Betting Launch Moves One Step Closer to Legalization by Football Season

Arizona Sports Betting Launch Moves One Step Closer to Legalization by Football Season article feature image

Robert Alexander/Getty Images. Pictured: Arizona state flag.

An Arizona sports betting launch by the 2021 football season seems increasingly likely after federal officials signed off on the state’s tribal gaming compact ahead of a June deadline.

The Department of the Interior’s approval Monday of the gaming compact struck between the Arizona government and its Native American gaming tribes clears one more hurdle for legal retail sportsbooks in the state. Federal legislation and subsequent court rulings have prohibited tribes from running online sportsbooks or casinos, and that authorization was not included in the gaming compact.

Instead, up to 10 Arizona tribes can open online sportsbooks thanks to a 2021 bill that puts Native American-operated digital sportsbooks under the purview of state regulators. This structure treats Native American online sportsbooks as if they were commercial entities.

The 2021 gaming compact’s companion legislation also permits venues associated with up to 10 professional sports franchises or organizations to open online and retail sportsbooks as well. With the sports organizations and now tribes continuing to clear regulatory hurdles, the early-fall launch pushed by policymakers is now closer than ever to fruition.

“The signing of the compact in DC was earlier than expected,” said State Rep. Jeff Weninger, who helped champion sports betting in the legislature, in a tweet Monday. “That makes a Sept (sic) launch much more possible. It’s not definite but this helps a lot.”

Arizona Sports Betting Details

Arizona could see up to 20 combined online sportsbooks, though not all, will launch when regulators give the launch green light later this year. The Arizona Department of Gaming must finalize sports betting rules, allow for a public comment review period and also license each sportsbook operator, a process that will take several more months.

Only six pro sports venues are approved to open online sportsbooks so far. Four additional licenses or “skins” are reserved for future leagues and their affiliated venues, such as for a rumored Phoenix MLS franchise.

The current facilities are:

  • State Farm Arena (home of the Arizona Cardinals)
  • Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
  • Phoenix Suns Arena
  • Gila River Arena (Arizona Coyotes)
  • Phoenix Raceway (NASCAR and other motorsport organizations)
  • TPC Scottsdale (PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open)

DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars have deals with the PGA Tour, Suns and Diamondbacks, respectively, and will likely be among or the first sportsbooks to launch.

There are 19 federally recognized Arizona tribes included in the compact but not all are expected to pursue online sports betting licenses, tribal representatives said earlier this year. It remains to be seen how many will fill the 10 online skins allotted to Arizona tribes, but many or all that do so are expected to partner with recognized third-party partners.

The 2021 compact and companion bill also permits licensed tribes to open a retail sportsbook at any of its brick-and-mortar gaming facilities. Sports organization licensees can also open retail books within or adjacent to their facilities.

Either through tribal or sports organization affiliations, many leading national brands are expected to pursue Arizona market access. Recognizable brands such as Penn National’s Barstool Sports, PointsBet, BetMGM and others could announce deals later this year.

Bottom Line

Work remains before Arizona sports betting begins, but Monday’s announcement clears one more regulatory hurdle. It remains to be seen which sportsbooks will open in Arizona or when they’ll do so, but every indication so far is officials are still on target for their projected fall 2021 launch.

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