The sports betting bill that would allow for Arizona to license and regulate legal online sports betting action has progressed to continue its march through the legislative process.
The latest amendments to bill HB 2772 include important wording of the fee structure for sports betting and Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). A companion bill SB 1797 is also making its way through the State Senate. Following safe passage of the House bill, after a marathon session, an Arizona Senate Committee also advanced their version.
The Senate debate reveals the sticking points
The Senate Commerce Committee advanced the sports wagering bill 6-3 after three hours of debate and deliberation. It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee later this week, and another conclusive vote there could send the bill before the Senate floor for a full vote on introducing legal Arizona sports betting as early as March.
During the debate, Senators had a range of pertinent questions for officials from the Governor’s office, online sportsbook operators, the professional sports teams and Native American tribes on a selection of their concerns including; geolocation technology, license allocation, market participation, tax rates and going hand-in-hand with that and perhaps most importantly, revenue generation.
Some senators questioned why some licenses proposed under the bill’s allowances were potentially tethered to professional sports teams, instead of entering the Arizona market without any free piggy back ride into consumer consciousness. A lot of time was spent by members of both parties questioning how sports betting related to larger negotiations that still exist around the state’s tribal gaming compact, and why only the Governor’s office was involved.
Importantly, however, only Senator Tony Pace specifically stated that he opposed sports betting as a part of Arizona’s larger gaming expansion. Clearly then, the devil remains in the detail. Lawmakers biggest and most significant concerns surround the structure of legal sports betting.
The two other ‘no’ votes emanating from those structure issues were the Senate Committee Vice Chair Michelle Ugenti-Rita, and Senator Jamescita Peshlakai, who represents a number of Native American reservations with tribal casino concerns in her district.
Despite the opposition, sports betting and its revenue raising power won through in the end and the committee went on to advance the bill. Sports betting proponents are now redoubling their efforts to advance HB 2772 while continuing to work on the Arizona senators who could possibly block the law’s safe passage into reality. The House seems more onboard with sports betting with both the House Commerce Committee and the House Rules Committee passing the companion bill within recent days.
However, it is important to remember that legal online sports wagering cannot pass into Arizona law without majority support in both the House and Senate.
The early momentum has built hopes for sports betting fans and online sportsbooks alike. However, with the lengthy Senate committee debate underscores that there are still bridges that need to be built moving forward.
For example, Senator Rosanna Gabaldon, who voted yes, said she would possibly reconsider her positive vote if it comes to a full floor vote, if the concerns of her colleagues were not firstly addressed.
What Needs to Happen for Arizona Sports Betting to become reality
Clearly, Arizona online sports betting has momentum, although the tribes are opposing it. The tribes require their concerns to be addressed or perhaps even compensated for. The best-case scenario for sports betting to become reality in Arizona is for lawmakers to approve these new bills during the Spring legislation season, and the details would be put in place in 2021 to allow for licenses to be assigned to operators potentially in late 2021 or early 2022. Mark Super Bowl 2022 on your calendar as a possible start date in The Grand Canyon State.
Worst-case scenario would be the Senate striking down the legislation, however, with both the tribes and the state desperately in need of revenue, let’s hope this scenario doesn’t eventuate. Watch this space.