The first stakeholder and public comments published by the Arizona Division of Gaming on June 25 generally reflect what stakeholders shared verbally in two meetings earlier in the month: Most support a single digital skin or platform per licensee, horse tracks and OTBs are having a tough time figuring out how they fit into the landscape, and clarification is needed around some definitions and issues.
But the written comments, which were a result of a six-day public-comment period, also include some passionate words from Arizona’s citizens:
“Scumbags profiting from individuals with addiction, and low-intellect,” wrote Michael Norton. “You should all be ashamed, but you’re probably getting kickbacks. Keep selling your citizens out for a buck.”
And Kristopher Murrow clearly wants DraftKings live. “DraftKings should be live before September 9,” he wrote.
No information other than the posters’ names were provided in the comments.
Unfortunately for Murrow, it’s unlikely that DraftKings will get a head start on any of its competitors, as the ADG has set Sept. 9 as the target date to launch as many operators as are ready in the biggest state in the West to legalize sports betting since the fall of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018. Regulators have their work cut out for them; the new law leaves much — including the tax rate (likely 8% to mirror the tribal revenue share to the state), licensing fees, and how to appropriate certain licenses — up to the ADG, which has asked stakeholders for input, but on certain points has received little.
‘Objective criteria’ needed for decisions
The statute allows for a total of 20 mobile and retail “event wagering operator” licenses, to be divided up as 10 for professional sports franchises/venues and 10 for tribal casinos. There are 20-plus tribal casinos in Arizona, so not every tribe or casino will get a license.
So far, the only suggestion from a stakeholder for how to appropriate those licenses came from Chad Riney, senior counsel for Churchill Downs Inc. Riney wrote, “If licenses must be allocated among applicants, objective criteria should be established for the Department to follow in determining which applicants (and their partners and providers) are most qualified to receive a license and [are] capable of establishing a successful event wagering operation.”
That was one of 12 comments Riney submitted, many dealing with clarifications. Riney did somewhat echo verbal comments from meetings in suggesting that credit cards be an allowable way to fund accounts, at least for online wagering.
I’m joining legislators and tribal leaders to sign the historic tribal-state gaming compact amendment and its associated legislation at the @HeardMuseum. Watch the ceremonial signing here: https://t.co/4btnDbErc5
— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) April 15, 2021
But no other operators or tribal representatives have, at least publicly, offered any thoughts to the ADG on how to divide up tribal licenses. According to the Arizona Indian Gaming Association website, the state currently has 21 federally recognized tribes. Fifteen of those tribes offer gaming at 24 casinos. Some tribes, like the Tohono O’odham Nation and Gila River Community, own multiple casinos.
The ADG has to sort out how to spread 10 licenses over the 15 gaming tribes. Industry insiders have suggested that some tribes could band together — for example, there are multiple Apache tribes in the state — and share a license. If all four — the San Carlos, Tonto, White Mountain, and Yavapi Apache — partnered on a single operator license, the state would then be left with nine licenses to spread among 11 tribes, making the math a little more manageable.
Whether or not that kind of partnership is doable would be up to the ADG to interpret, as in most cases a licensee can only have a single retail wagering location. But, food for thought …
(Full disclosure … knowing nothing about the relationships between these tribes, Sports Handle is taking a stab in the dark on who would partner with whom and respectfully apologizes if, given the history between any of the tribes, this is a poor suggestion)
Should Phoenix Rising get a license?
While that issue is likely the biggest one sitting on the ADG’s collective shoulders, stakeholders and interested parties offered some other food for thought:
- Horse tracks and OTBs are eligible to apply for one of 10 retail-only sports betting licenses. There were questions about how licenses will be issued and if the tracks and OTBs are required to partner with an event wagering operator to offer sports betting.
- Representatives from both the NFL Cardinals and the PGA’s TPC-Scottsdale asked for clarification of what a “designee” is and if the franchise must hold an operator’s license or if the operating partner (i.e. DraftKings or FanDuel or Caesars) could hold the license.
- The Phoenix Rising professional soccer team — which is not an MLS team — requested that it be included in the definition of professional sports teams. The definition in the statute calls for a team or franchise or sport to be “at the highest level, league, or organization.” Phoenix Rising plays in the United Soccer League, the highest level of professional soccer in Arizona. Major League Soccer is the highest level of professional soccer in the U.S.
- Other stakeholders asked for more opportunity for small business and clarity around integrity monitoring, voids, and servers.
Arizona lawmakers legalized sports betting on April 15, after Gov. Doug Ducey and the state’s tribes agreed to a compact that would allow the tribes and some commercial operators to offer statewide mobile and retail sports wagering. The compact has already been approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
— Chris Coppola (@chris_coppola) May 6, 2021
A handful of operators have already announced market access in Arizona. Caesars has two avenues — one through a partnership with the MLB Diamondbacks and another through a long-standing relationship through its Harrah’s brand with the Ak-Chin casino. In addition, DraftKings is partnering with the PGA Tour and FanDuel has a deal with the Phoenix Suns. It’s likely that either Penn National Gaming (Barstool Sports) or WynnBet, both of which have deals with NASCAR, will partner with Phoenix Raceway, and BetMGM is rumored to be close to a deal with the Gila River Community.