Arizona Sports Betting Bill Stalls in Senate After Encouraging House Vote

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

An Arizona Senate committee did not advance online and retail sports betting legislation for the second time in as many days Wednesday, raising questions about what appeared to be one of the most promising legal wagering bill considered this year.

The state Senate Committee on Commerce did not discuss a sports betting bill Wednesday initially scheduled for its afternoon meeting.  A House committee advanced the companion bill, 9-1, Tuesday with bipartisan support Tuesday.

Both bills were subject to further scrutiny in their respective chambers, but the lopsided early House vote just a day earlier appeared to give legal sports betting momentum heading into Wednesday. The legislation is now stalled as backers in the Senate work through wavering colleagues that weren’t ready for further action.

If both the Republican-controlled House and Senate pass identical versions of the bill, it awaits the signature of Gov. Doug Ducey, a fellow Republican and sports betting proponent likely to sign the legislation into law. But the bill must first pass out of committee in the Senate, a key yet seemingly likely first step that will now have to wait.

Arizona Sports Betting Bill Details

Arizona’s sports betting bill would allow the state’s Native American tribes to open online and retail sportsbooks. There could also be as many as 10 additional retail licenses granted to venues such as horse tracks.

Additionally, the bill allows the state’s major professional sports venues to open retail betting kiosks. Arizona would be just the third state to approve in-stadium sportsbooks, following Washington D.C. and Illinois. Other states such as New York and Maryland are considering similar in-stadium betting options.

The eligible venues are:

  • Talking Stick Resort Arena (home of the Phoenix Suns)
  • Gila River Arena (Arizona Coyotes)
  • Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
  • State Farm Stadium (Arizona Cardinals)
  • Phoenix Raceway
  • TPC Scottsdale

The state’s minor league baseball stadiums used for Cactus League Spring Training games would not be eligible.

If passed, the legislation also legalizes daily fantasy sports. Arizona is one of the few remaining states without legal DFS options.

Proponents Line Up

Wednesday’s Senate hearing was set to follow a House hearing where a diverse group of stakeholders advocated for the bill with comparatively minor opposition.

Anni Foster, Ducey’s general council, touted it as a way to generate as much as $42 million in annual tax revenues for the state general fund once the market matures. Foster’s testimony further underscored the governor’s support, a key aspect of any 2021 sports betting hopes.

Representatives on behalf of DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM also testified. Three of the largest sportsbooks by U.S. market share, the bill would allow these operators (and at least a dozen others) to partner with the state’s Native American gaming tribes and offer statewide mobile betting.

Lobbyist John MacDonald testified favorably at Tuesday’s hearing on behalf of two of the Arizona gaming tribes.

Officials from the Coyotes, Diamondbacks, PGA Tour and Phoenix Raceway also testified in person in favor of the bill.

The few opponents were primarily restaurant and bar stakeholders upset the legislation didn’t give the hospitality industry a larger role in legal sports betting.

Many of these same proponents were poised to speak at Wednesday’s Senate hearing but were unable to testify after the bill was pulled from the committee’s agenda.

Next Steps

Sports betting is one of a myriad of issues lawmakers are considering during the 2021 session, but the early favorable endorsements were a sign the legislation could move relatively quickly. Sports betting hopes are still very much in play for this year’s session, but Wednesday’s delay presents an unwelcome speedbump at best – and an existential threat at worst.

In the meantime, Ducey and the tribes are finalizing a much more comprehensive compact that could direct the state’s gaming industry for decades. Foster said the governor’s office had an agreement in principle that would expand tribal gaming options, opening the door for legal sports betting.

Sports betting awaits a finalized agreement, but every indicator from both sides is that a deal is close.

With the tribes, governor, sports leagues and sportsbook operators seemingly all on board, Arizona has positioned itself for one of 2021’s more expedient sports betting implementations. But without a positive recommendation from the Senate, the bill won’t be able to pass into law.