New Hurdle Emerges for Arizona Senate Sports Betting Bill

New Hurdle Emerges for Arizona Senate Sports Betting Bill
© USA Today

A sports betting bill in the Arizona Senate has more questions than answers after an Appropriations Committee hearing this week.

Arizona SB 1797 was moved to Appropriations in a 6-3 vote last week by the state’s Senate Committee on Commerce. Even though it advanced with concerns, it seemed like it would easily pass through Tuesday’s Appropriations Committee hearing.

Instead, it turned out to be more muddled than ever.


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Appropriations Committee Chairman David Gowan introduced an amendment to attach SB 1797, the sports betting bill, to a historic horse racing bill — SB 1794 — that was also on Tuesday’s agenda. Essentially both bills are now combined as one.

After lengthy discussion, the committee barely approved SB 1794 by a vote of 5-4-1. The Senate Rules Committee then advanced the bill on Wednesday.

“I think we need to talk about these other areas that could bring in such as historical horse racing certainly will bring in well over $100 million itself and that would go into the general fund itself. That is what we are looking at in this ball of wax that we put together here,” Gowan (R-District 14) said prior to the vote in the Appropriations Committee. “That’s why we are looking at this piece and I would appreciate the support of this committee to continue these talks.”

Sen. T.J. Shope (R-District 8), sponsor of SB 1797, had a very different view.

“I’m 100% opposed to what Mr. Gowan is doing. He’s trying to destroy my bill in order to help the racetracks,” Shope said in an email to Gambling.com late Tuesday night.

Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-District 16) told the committee she opposes all gambling measures, but decided to vote yes. More than likely she won’t be voting for it on the full Senate floor, she said.

Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, supported new gaming opportunities for the state and tribes in his State of the State address last month. He said it was “an opportunity for a modernized gaming compact that will bring in more revenue for our tribal nations and our state budget.”

Historic Horse Racing Opposed by Tribes

The original horse racing bill would have allowed the three state horse tracks — Arizona Downs, Rillito Park and Turf Paradise — along with any off-track betting location to install historic horse racing terminals at their sites.

Arizona’s Indian gaming tribes are opposed to historic horse racing, viewing these terminals as slot machines. They say it would be a threat to their exclusive gaming rights under their existing compact and could cause a stumbling block to a new compact they are currently negotiating with the state.

The negotiations of the new compact deal could expand Indian gaming options and possibly include a new casino site outside of Phoenix.

House Bill Clears Committees

House Bill 2772 has cleared the House Rules Committee and will be heading to the full House for consideration. The bill, similar to the Senate sports betting bill, was approved 9-1 in the House Commerce Committee.

Introduced by Rep. Jeff Weninger (R-Chandler), HB 2772 would allow wagers to be placed online, would have daily fantasy sports wagering and also add limited Keno games at off-track betting locations and social clubs like the American Legion, Elks Club, etc.

It has received support from Arizona’s pro sports teams, Phoenix Raceway, the PGA Tour and representatives from BetMGM, DraftKings and FanDuel.

Under the bill, the four Arizona major professional sports teams would be able to operate sports betting at their venues, at a separate retail location within a quarter mile of the stadiums/arenas and online. Ten licenses would be awarded to other sports entities like the PGA Tour and NASCAR.

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