Bet on it – sports wagering to become law

Dillon Rosenblatt//April 12, 2021

Bet on it – sports wagering to become law

Dillon Rosenblatt//April 12, 2021

Oakland Athletics' Mark Canha (20) steals third base as Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar leaps for a high pickoff throw during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, April 12, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Oakland Athletics’ Mark Canha (20) steals third base as Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar leaps for a high pickoff throw during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, April 12, 2021, in Phoenix. On the same day, the Arizona Legislature passed a Senate bill to legalize sports wagering in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Sports betting in Arizona is a signature away from becoming legal after a lengthy and dramatic vote in the state Senate.  

The measure was one of Gov. Doug Ducey’s top priorities of the legislative sessionand with the emergency clause threshold reached, it becomes law with his signature rather than waiting for 90 days after the session ends 

The Senate voted 23-7 on HB2772, which followed the House’s 48-12 approval on March 4.  

The Senate’s vote came after a lengthy debate trying to add “hostile” amendments from Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, two senators who oppose the measure in its current form.  

All proposed amendments from the pair failed and the Senate continued on to pass the legislation.  

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, was the prime sponsor of the bill and Sen. T.J. Shope sponsored a mirror bill in the Senate, but it was Weninger’s that got the final approval.  

Some of the floor debate centered around the inference Democrats accepted $90 million in discretionary funds in exchange for their support. The money will come from the federal allocation for Covid relief and can only be spent that way.  

Democrat votes were needed not only for the emergency clause, but approval itself since there weren’t 16 Republican votes.  

Sen. Martin Quezada, a co-whip, told Yellow Sheet Report last week that he was not part of the discussion and that it was only Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios and her assistant leader Lupe Contreras who worked out receiving the money.  

Quezada and other Democrats were unhappy with the minimal amount they got since their votes were needed.  

He said he did not think it was enough of a win, but that he trusted the leadership team did the best they could.  

“If my caucus is supportive of the bill, I’m gonna stick with my caucus,” he said, adding that the tribes want it done and that’s a deciding factor for him.  

That’s an important point, as Dems were likely to support the legislation with or without concessions, because it’s a top priority for tribes. 

Still, Quezada said he wishes they could have gotten more out of the deal since it needed Democratic support to pass.  

“I think we probably should have got a little bit more than that. Probably a lot more than that, but it is what it is,” he said. 

Rios, while explaining her vote late Monday, pushed back on that claim saying she takes “great offense at saying that my vote to support Indian Gaming has been bought. She mentioned how her caucus all supported the bill already (save for Gonzales) and that it’s a lie to say it was in exchange for votes. 

“So let me set the record straight. That is not the truth,” Rios said.  

Sally Ann Gonzales
Sally Ann Gonzales

However, she did not offer up an explanation for why Ducey granted them the $90 million out of the blue – the same day Senate President Karen Fann pulled Shope’s bill out of the Senate Appropriations Committee to officially move it forward after it stalled for more than one month.  

Gonzales didn’t mince her words about Rios’ explanation. 

“I hope you write about the lie that was told there,” she told Capitol Times after the floor vote. “That was a [expletive] lie. Just incredible.” 

Ducey’s office was ready to react as soon as the voting was complete, not wasting anytime sending out a tweet about the historic news. 

“A new tribal-state gaming compact just passed the legislature! The updated agreement is a win-win for Arizonans, tribal members, and sports leagues and teams,” he wrote. “Thank you to everyone who worked to improve Arizona’s gaming compact!” 

A lot of the opposition – mostly from Gonzales and Ugenti-Rita – surrounded favoring Arizona’s sports franchise owners who serve to greatly benefit from this once it becomes law and the gaming compact gets signed.  

As written, 10 licenses are up for grabs for sports owners like the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks and 10 licenses will also become available for Arizona’s tribes. 

Ugenti was not in favor of helping out those winners who already win in the game of life.”  

“We are going to award people who have monopolies, more monopolies. I just fundamentally don’t agree with that approach,” Ugenti told her fellow senators. “We now are doing something that’s unprecedented. This is a once every 20-year deal, we should be taking our time. Instead of rubber stamping something we should be putting our stamp on something.” 

She wanted the process to be opened up so anyone can bid to operate one of the 10 off-reservation operations, but her colleagues shot that down. She also wanted some of the money to be earmarked for education funding, but again was turned down despite winning support from nine others.  

All of the money the bill will bring in, which is currently estimated at around $100 million annually, will go straight to the state’s general fund. Opponents also argue that $100 million is likely on the very low end of the expected revenue.  

Gonzales pointed to a similar bill in Colorado that brought in $1.2 billion during the pandemic in 2020.  

Ultimately, once Ducey signs HB2772, the 20-year compact can also become official which is a top revenue earner for Arizona’s 23 tribes – or at least the ones who sign on. Currently, 16 tribes run 25 casinos in Arizona. 

The win-win situation Ducey referenced in his immediate statement is likely referring to a win for him, Shope and Weninger successfully expanding off-reservation gaming, and a win for the tribes to get their new compact, which was set to start expiring in 2023. Voters approved the last compact on the ballot in 2002 that permitted gambling to only happen on the reservation.  

The bill allows sports and fantasy betting in Arizona, along with a new Keno game run by the lottery 

And the current compact says the tribes can offer only card games such as blackjack and poker, but the amendments Ducey is negotiating could include new games such as baccarat, craps and roulette.