More than two years after the federal ban on sports betting was lifted, Arizona is one of 28 states that have not passed legislation to legalize gambling on sports in-person or online.
A bill that would have legalized land-based sports books, Senate Bill 1525, with exclusive rights going to Native American tribes, was introduced in the Legislature in February, but it didn’t make it out of committee.
“There is a good, happy medium where we are not stepping on tribal toes,” said state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who co-sponsored the bill. “Because it could be done in such a way where everybody should be able to share and everybody could prosper.”
The main hurdle is the Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact, which voters narrowly passed by a 51 percent margin in 2002.
“You have to have all the tribes (in the gaming compact) agree and sign off on to anything additional or expansion in the compact, they all have to agree,” Borrelli said.
“It comes down to the gaming compact and how flexible it is. The first step is getting the tribes to be on board with it, and then you have to go through the state side of it.”
The Arizona Compact consists of 16 of the 22 federally recognized tribes in the state. However, Arizona’s biggest native group, the Navajo Nation, is not one of them.
“I think the Navajo Nation is very interested in sports betting and in finding ways to expand their casino offerings,” said attorney Steven Hart, who represents the tribe.
Some Arizona officials believe the legalization of sports betting statewide would be worth overcoming any obstacles. State Rep. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, has been working with Borrelli to highlight the benefits legal sports betting can bring to the Grand Canyon State.
“It would be another source of revenue for the state,” Pierce said. “A lot of people want it (sports gambling); they’re doing it anyway.”
When it comes to online gambling, Arizona is one of just seven states without online or mobile sports betting through major sites, such as FanDuel or DraftKings. No sports betting proposal in Arizona has mentioned online gambling.
“Any state that is considering legalizing sports betting needs to give serious consideration to mobile sports betting,” said Adam Candee, managing editor of Legal Sports Report.
“This is something that people across the country have shown is what they want,” Candee said. “If you look at New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which were two of the first to legalize sports betting, they are now averaging 90 percent of their bets each month being placed online.”
With COVID-19 stopping progress on legalization, Pierce remains confident Arizona could be one of the next states to permit sports betting.
He and Borrelli in March proposed House Bill 2813, which would legalize sports betting like SB 1525 but would allow both the commercial and tribal retail sportsbooks.
The bill was passed out of committee and introduced on the House floor, but was tabled when the pandemic brought the session to an early end.
“The virus came along and kind of ended everything this year,” Pierce said. “But it’s there now for next year, and I’ve heard that bills like this that were ready to go to the floor and the virus came for the next session they might be put on a fastrack to get out in front of all the other bills.”