When his sports betting bill got gummed up in the political works, Arizona State Senator and retired Marine Sonny Borelli (R-District 5) did what any good Marine would do. He went to Plan B.
Instead of losing a shot at legalizing sports betting this term, Borelli’s unique sports betting bill, which would bring tribal gaming into commercial establishments, is still alive, it just has a different name.
The original bill, SB 1158, got hung up in the Commerce Committee after tribal interests requested additional time to work out language in the bill with Borelli. But as time went on, Borelli thought it best to get the bill released from the Commerce Committee and moved to Appropriations, but when that didn’t work, he opted to strike the original bill and import its language into another bill he had sitting in the Appropriations Committee, SB 1163. That bill will get a hearing on Tuesday, marking the first sports betting hearing in the state.
The tribes “were trying to draw out the timeline,” Borelli said. “But Rule No. 2 for Marines, don’t go to war with a warrior. There’s always a backup plan.”
Tribal-commercial partnership would put kiosks in bars
States managing tribal interests have created trickier courses for sports betting legalization, considering different interests, end games, existing tribal-state compacts, and of course, politics.
No matter the number on the top of the bill, Borelli’s bill would create a unique tribal-commercial partnership in which tribal-owned betting kiosks would be placed at bars and private clubs, like a local VFW Post. Restaurants are not included in this mix. There are many states, including Washington and Minnesota, in which tribes want sports betting exclusivity, but commercial businesses have been crying foul. Borelli’s idea gives the tribes that exclusivity, but allows commercial businesses a chance at some revenue, at least.
“I want to take advantage of the existing technology with the kiosk,” Borelli said. “I want to pick up that kiosk, take it out of the casino and put it in a liquor-licensed bar, a beer-and-wine bar or private clubs, like the Elks or VFW.”
The net result would be more accessibility to sports betting for a consumer base that Borelli believes isn’t that interested in going to a casino anyway. He said he wouldn’t drive the 40 miles from his house to the nearest tribal casino to place a “$10 bet on the Diamondbacks,” but he’d definitely stop by a local bar or VFW hall to do so. The commercial businesses could negotiate space-rental prices or a cut of the action with tribes.
Arizona currently has 24 casinos run by 16 tribes, spread throughout a state with a population of about 7 million. Almost 20 percent of that population is in and around Phoenix, where seven of the casinos are located. The rest of the state is fairly rural, meaning it can be a long drive to the nearest casino. While Borelli does not have a mobile component to his bill — “that’s a bridge too far right now,” he said — his goal is to make sports betting significantly more accessible.
In addition, Borelli’s bill includes a “new revenue stream,” created by imposing a 6.75 percent tax on revenue on all bets made at kiosks not located on tribal lands. Under the current tribal compacts, gaming revenue is taxed on a sliding scale from 1-8 percent, depending on the amount of revenue.