Arizona's Statewide Sports Gambling Measure Moves Ahead
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Promoted by an aide to Gov. Doug Ducey and urged on by sports teams and Native American tribes, state lawmakers gave the first nod Tuesday to vastly expanded legal gaming in Arizona.
The far-reaching legislation approved by the House Commerce Committee would legalize the ability of Arizonans to wager on professional and college sports. Betting on fantasy sports also would become legal if HB 2772 becomes law.
And all that could be done online through a smart phone.
On top of that, off-track betting locations and service organizations would get the right to legally offer keno. That's a form of lottery but with a new game and new numbers up to 15 times every hour.
The 9-1 vote followed testimony by a parade of lobbyists for professional sports organizations.
Several of them told of the financial woes they faced after the pandemic shortened the seasons. They see legal wagering -- and the money they would generate -- as a financial lifeline.
But there's something else: The plan, if approved would generate anywhere from $20 million to $42 million a year for the state general fund, money that lawmakers could use for new or expanded programs or even to grant tax cuts.
Only Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson cast the dissenting vote on the idea of providing people with more ways and more places to wager -- and potentially lose -- their money.
"Gambling is an addiction,'' she said.
"People lose their homes and their livelihoods from gambling,'' Powers Hannley continued. "We need to realize that we could have unintended consequences from expansion of gambling.''
The Tucson lawmaker also said she's not convinced that the private companies that will be hired by sports teams and franchises to run the operations will properly store and protect private information of those who place their bets online. In fact, Powers Hannley said, this could provide the opportunity for companies to "geotrack'' the gamblers who make their wagers through their smart phones.
But other lawmakers were more inclined to listen the lobbyists who saw nothing but positive out of this.
One was Rob Dallagher who represents the Arizona Cardinals, one of the teams that would get the right to establish its own online and in-stadium wagering facility where people could bet not just on Cardinals game and not just on football but on any professional or college sporting event anywhere in the country. He told lawmakers they need to recognize the reality of the situation.
"If I wanted to go today and make a sports bet, there is a way for me to do that,'' Dallagher said.
"What I'm not so certain about is, if I win, am I going to get paid, or is the person holding that bet for me using data that is legitimate to determine whether I won or lost that bet,'' he continued. "And this bill covers both of those.''
Any suggestion of delay was discouraged.
Amilyn Pierce, vice president of the Arizona Diamondbacks, said teams elsewhere have brought in new cash because their home states have given the go-ahead for sports wagering since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 voided a federal law banning such gambling.
"In the years since the ruling, we have watched as other states have significantly implemented sports betting and what it has done to the financial health of the teams who have been able to participate,'' she told lawmakers. "We cannot let Arizona fall behind, putting our sports teams at a significant disadvantage in a competitive market.''
Andrew Diss, speaking for the Arizona Coyotes, said his team, like many others, had significant losses when the pandemic resulted in a shortened season and later, while playing was resumed, the events largely occurred without fans. But he said there was a surprise of sorts for franchise owners.
"Even though there were massive losses across traditional revenue streams, one area that saw a substantial rise was sports betting handle in the states where it's legal,'' Diss said.
"Even though they weren't able to pack the stands, it was clear that fans were still watching at home,'' he continued. "And they were placing wagers.''
What's in HB 2772 and a mirror bill in the Senate of SB 1797 are half of a deal that Ducey cut with tribes as they are renegotiating the gaming compacts first approved in 2002.
In essence, the tribes would get opportunities for additional locations for casinos and the right to operate new games like craps and roulette. They, too, will be able to take in sports bets.
All the terms of that, however, have not been made public. Anni Foster, the governor's legal counsel, said her boss is entitled to approve new terms without the approval of lawmakers.
What does require legislative ratification is what the tribes are giving the state in return: the right to operate new forms of off-reservation gaming that were prohibited in the original 2002 deal.
But the whole package is tied together: The tribes don't get expanded gaming if lawmakers don't OK the new off-reservation games. And sports betting is permitted only if the tribes in the Phoenix and Tucson areas approve the final deal.
Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, who is sponsoring the House version of the off-reservation gaming plan, said he sees a possible ripple effect.
"I truly think you're going to see things where more people are going to games because it is exciting maybe to have a bet and maybe watching the game in person,'' he said, "more people wanting to watch it in a group setting because maybe they have a $20 bet on the game.''
The measure now goes to the full House following a review of its constitutionality. No date has been set to hear the Senate version sponsored by Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge.