Sports betting by summer? Could be, as Arizona Senate sends gambling bill to governor

Betting windows at sporting venues are closer to becoming a reality now that that a sports gambling bill has passed through the senate. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Senate passed legislation Monday night that paves the way for legalized sports betting in the state, possibly as soon as summer.

Senate Bill 1797 and House Bill 2772 were passed with bipartisan support on the new gaming compact, which includes the legalization of daily fantasy sports, and now head to Gov. Doug Ducey to be signed into law. The bill includes an emergency clause, which would enact the changes immediately if Ducey signs the bill.

“We could possibly begin gambling and wagering on sporting events as the Cardinals kick their season off this fall,” said Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge. “That has been our aspirational goal from the beginning. It is my hope that we’ll go ahead and achieve that.”

Included in the agreement, 10 licenses would be granted by the state to sports organizations. They would have the ability to create their own sportsbooks within their respective venues. Golf courses, race tracks and other sports arenas would have the ability to apply and use one of these licenses.

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Another 10 licenses would be provided to Native American tribes throughout the state to create a sports book at their respective casinos.

Co-sponsors of this bill – Shope and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler – have been working directly with the Governor’s Office for a number of years to get sports betting legalized.

“I’ve been a supporter of the idea of event wagering and, more importantly, fantasy sports,” Shope said. “I think this has been an appetite for many people in the state. And I was happy to be the guy that was asked to lead the charge.”

Weninger credits the bill with creating new opportunities for growth in the state. He envisions the state attracting more sporting events in the future and earning greater revenue on top of what is already being brought in.

“I think it just enhances the amount of people that are coming in, and you have to remember, this isn’t just about what revenue directly comes from a $10 bet that Jeff makes on the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl,” Weninger said. “This is a conference that now comes here that now they’re going out to restaurants and they’re going to different shops, and it’s helping out small businesses and everyone by growing the pie and bringing more and more people into our state.”

Concerns with the legislation

“In my opinion, this bill will be really detrimental to Indian gaming in the long run,” said Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson. “Twenty years out, I don’t think people are going to be going to casinos anymore.”

Gonzales was one of six state senators to vote against SB 1797. Gonzales’ opposition to the legislation stems from concerns on the future of Native American gaming and the potential harm this proposes for native communities. Gonzales worries that many of the smaller tribes with less resources would lose out if they would not earn a sports gambling license.

“My biggest concern of the bill is it is just bad government and bad policy, and the way that the governor put it together,” Gonzales said.

The Arizona Board of Regents has previously stated its opposition to sports gambling legislation, The Arizona Republic reported. The Board of Regents is the governing body that oversees the three largest universities within the state: the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

Gambling organizations react

Reactions were swift from major gambling organizations that supported the recent legislation. DraftKings and FanDuel, two of the largest mobile sports gambling operators in the U.S., tweeted support for the efforts of Shope and Weninger.

Stacie Stern, the Director of Government Affairs for FanDuel, stressed the importance of this legislation in Arizona.

“This is really, when I say historic, I mean this in the sense that we are seeing tribal gaming and sports teams come together and work together for the benefit of Arizona sports fans,” Stern said.

“I think that helps to make the argument easier for figuring out a way to modernize and move into these areas of sports betting and paid fantasy sports contests, in addition to the compact negotiations.”

Cronkite News reached out to DraftKings, which issued the following statement:

“We want to thank the Arizona Legislature, and in particular Representative Jeff Weninger and Senator Thomas “T.J.” Shope Jr., for passing HB 2772 that will bring sports betting, including mobile, and fantasy sports to Arizona, pending action from Governor Doug Ducey. We look forward to potentially introducing Arizona sports fans to our top-rated DraftKings’ DFS and mobile sportsbook products.”

Sportsbooks inside Arizona stadiums

Arizona will be one of the few states in the U.S. that will allow sportsbooks to be placed near or inside sporting venues.

“I know that there are conversations that are going on behind the scenes with the passage of the bill last night,” Stern said. “As soon as we get the governor’s signature on it, I imagine we’re going to start to see some announcements and press releases with some of those partnerships coming very soon.”

“I think you want to have the license, belong to a place where the people are,” Shope said. “Every time the Cardinals take the field, there’s 60,000 people in one spot, that would be able to go ahead and do it.”

“I think it just gets people more engaged in the fan experience as well,” Weninger said. “So we’re excited about that aspect.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jake Santo expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in political science. Santo most recently worked as a video intern for the Arizona Diamondbacks and game-day staff with Phoenix Rising FC.