Two years later, a look back shows that the state has been one of the more effective leaders in sports betting in the western region of the U.S., where population leader California still has yet to legalize it.
Still, the road was not always a smooth one in the state.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May 2018, striking down a 26-year-old federal law (called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA) that effectively granted a monopoly on sports betting to Nevada, was no surprise to close followers of the case.
That’s because in June 2017, the court had – in a very rare move – disregarded the recommendation of the U.S. Solicitor General’s office that it need not review the six-year-old case called NCAA v Christie.
With that strong hint, the ultimate ruling led Delaware and defendant New Jersey to launch legal sports betting within 30 days.
A few thousand miles west, the pace was far different.
The Legislative Efforts Begin
It wasn’t until January 2019 that Lake Havasu City state Senator Sonny Borrelli introduced a sports betting legalization bill. But three of the state’s larger tribes expressed their objections, and the bill stalled.
A year later, Borrelli and his allies introduced a second bill that would allow sports betting only at tribal casinos and at some bars and taverns with the consent of the tribes. But the sudden spread of the COVID-19 pandemic tabled most legislative efforts for a long period of time.
In March 2021, the Arizona House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill that was a major revision to prior attempts – sports betting in Arizona would be legal at tribal casinos; at professional sports venues; and most importantly, on sportsbooks accessible on consumer smartphones.
Gov. Doug Ducey had indicated his position on sports betting legalization in a tweet on the day of the 2018 Supreme Court ruling:
“This is positive news. We have been working on a modernized gaming compact. This ruling gives Arizona options that could benefit our citizens and our general fund.”
Ducey was referred to talks that had begun in 2016 to revise the state’s 2002 Native American Gaming Compact.
So it surprised no one that Ducey signed the House bill – also subsequently approved by the state Senate – into law in April 2021, setting the stage for up to 10 licenses to be awarded to Native American tribes and up to 10 more for professional sports entities. By June, the planned Sept. 9 launch date was announced – an aggressive timetable, but one that put almost the entire lucrative NCAA and NFL football seasons into play.
The same bill gave the tribes authority to offer a number of new tables games such as baccarat and craps; expanded the total number of permitted slot machines by more than 6,000; officially legalized daily fantasy sports play; and permitted Keno games at horse racing tracks as well as at specific fraternal organization sites.
Ducey on that same day revealed that he had finalized a deal with the tribes on an update of the outdated gaming compact.
The distribution of sports betting licenses provoked controversy, however, as it did not appear that there were 10 of the latter candidates who would qualify – yet there are 21 recognized tribes in Arizona who would have to compete for the other 10 licenses.
Retail Sportsbooks A Lure In Arizona
As in most states, 90% or more of sports bets in Arizona are placed on mobile devices. But unlike most states, Arizona had drawn attention for its retail sportsbooks.
For instance, the 2023 Super Bowl that took place between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., was the first “Super site” that featured legal sports betting. That was a convenience for visitors from Pennsylvania who for several years had grown accustomed to such an option, and presumably a surprise to many Missouri and Kansas visiting fans whose states have not yet legalized sports betting.
The BetMGM Sportsbook at the Glendale site was also the first NFL facility – it is home to the Arizona Cardinals – to feature a legal sportsbook.
A Caesars Sportsbook at the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and a FanDuel Sportsbook at the NBA Phoenix Suns’ Footprint Center each opened in September 2022.
Another unique site is expected to open in late 2023 – the DraftKings Sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale. The 13,000 square foot facility is scheduled to include a 390-seat indoor sports betting area that would have 40 individual betting kiosks and seven ticket windows as well as two VIP rooms that each accommodate up to 16 people. An outdoor patio is to feature video screens, VIP cabanas, and fire pits.
That location is a significant addition because the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, played each February on Super Bowl weekend, draws the largest crowds of any annual golf event in the world.
More than 600,000 spectators visit the TPC course each tournament, and in 2018 a record-setting 719,679 fans were on hand. That included 216,818 for the third round of the event on Saturday.
That sort of attendance should produce a significant betting handle on the tournament as well as on the Super Bowl that takes place right after the final round concludes.
Arizona Sports Betting By The Numbers
The Arizona Department of Gaming‘s most recent monthly revenue announcement was for June 2023, when a betting handle of $393.2 million allowed the state to become the ninth in the U.S. to clear the $11 billion all-time handle milestone.
While that June handle pales in comparison to any taking place during football season, it was the fifth-highest in the country for that month – a measure of how firmly legal sports betting has taken hold in the state, which took in $1.6 million in betting tax revenue for the month.
Gross revenue for Arizona sportsbooks was up more than 30% compared to the first half of 2022.
A significant majority of the June betting handle came from the Arizona mobile betting apps FanDuel ($146.3 million) and DraftKings ($111.3 million). The state’s other 15 sportsbooks teamed for $135.6 million, led by BetMGM ($55.7 million) and Caesars ($39.9 million). None of the other books surpassed $12 million in handle.