AZ Sen. Sonny Borrelli and AZ Rep. Steve Pierce

  • Sports betting legalization in Arizona requires the Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact to be 51% in favor of the industry in order to move forward.
  • The 2020 legislative session was an odd one due to the outbreak of COVID-19, but tribes and lawmakers disagreed on the type of market that should be made legal for gambling on sporting events.

PHOENIXArizona lawmakers tried tirelessly in the 2020 legislative session to get sports betting legalized in the state but progress was halted due to the opposition that was seen by the tribes.

Senator Sonny Borrelli and Representative Stephen Pierce sponsored both House Bill 2813 and Senate Bill 1525 that each would have made gambling on sporting events a legal pastime for the Grand Canyon State. The catch?

Sponsors wanted to have the industry be one that allowed for both commercial and Tribal sportsbooks, through AZ HB 2813, much to the dismay of the 16 tribes that make up the Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact.

Arizona is home to 22 tribes but only needs 51% approval by those that are part of the compact to move forward with any legislation that involves gaming.

Getting Tribes On Board

“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,” said Borrelli. “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.”

With that being said, Borelli still believes this could be an industry that allows everyone to successfully be involved. Tribes would like to have a monopoly on the gaming industry for Arizona in its entirety.

Anything having to do with legal gaming should belong to the tribes and only the tribes as far as they are concerned. So, while lawmakers like Borelli believe there is enough room for commercial and Tribal businesses to profit from the sports betting market like AZ HB 2813 would have created, the compact whose go-ahead is needed to move forward on the subject does not.

“I think sports betting legalization is fine and should not be Indians only! They should not have a monopoly,” said Pierce to LegalSportsBetting in May. “The biggest challenge that House Bill 2318 has faced this year is Indians gaming. They believe all gaming or wagering is theirs. It isn’t!”

AZ SB 1525, which does not involve the commercial aspect like that of the House Bill, did not receive approval by the compact in 2020 because lawmakers liked House Bill 2813 better as it was all-encompassing.

With that in mind, tribes were less inclined to push behind the Senate Bill and its progression. They already own all of the gaming businesses in the state so adding sportsbooks to their establishments isn’t a make or break scenario as they’ve done just fine with what they already offer.

What Is The Outlook For 2021?

With the Coronavirus Pandemic ending the 2020 session in terms of many issues not being able to get the attention that was need needed could be viewed as a contributing factor as to why the bills died out. But going into 2021, the state will need new revenue streams and legal sports betting in Arizona could be helpful in that department.

Previous bills did not include mobile sportsbooks which is something that other states have greatly profited from. And with social distancing still being a factor in daily life, it would be prudent to add that aspect of gambling on sporting events to any future piece of legislation.

Until the Arizona Legislature reconvenes in 2021 for further discussions, the legalization of sports wagering in the state of Arizona will have to wait. However, the question from 2020 will crossover into 2021; will the tribes be game for a gaming expansion of sports betting?

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