PHOENIX — Two bills – one in each house – are making their way through the Arizona state legislature with the goal of making sports betting and daily fantasy sports legal in Arizona.
Jeff Weninger (R-Chandler) TJ Shope (R-Gila/Pinal Counties) are sponsoring the bills, and they hope a final bill will hit Gov. Ducey’s desk before the end of this session. 12 News spoke with Weninger about his bill and about what it means for Arizona. 12 News also spoke with Sue Figueroa, who counsels gambling addicts and is a recovering problem gambler herself.
What does this change?
The State of Arizona has had a Tribal Gaming Compact with Arizona’s Indian tribes since 1992. The Compact allows for slot machines, poker, blackjack, and other forms of gambling, but it has never included sports gambling. These bills would change that. Also, more than just tribes will be able to get gambling licenses.
“Ten licenses to tribes and then ten licenses which are really going to the sporting teams, so think of the Arizona Cardinals the Arizona Diamondbacks the Coyotes,” Weninger said.
Teams will be permitted to open sports books within their stadiums and arenas as well as within a quarter mile of those stadiums.
“Think about Westgate. Think about downtown Phoenix where the stadiums are. Think about retail that is right near there. They can also do that; then they can also contract with the online portals where you don’t necessarily have to leave your home to bet,” Weninger said.
Dog tracks and horse tracks could also receive licensing.
In addition to sports gambling, daily fantasy sports would become legal in Arizona, meaning apps like FanDuel and DraftKings would be able to operate legally in Arizona.
Finally, civic and veterans groups like the American Legion and VFW halls have had raffles, pull tabs, and other forms of what is legally deemed to be gambling for years. This bill would allow those groups to offer keno as well.
How much money will the state make?
“It’s tough to pinpoint exact numbers. I don’t think we’re talking in the tens of millions. I think we’re talking in the hundreds of millions,” Weninger said. “We don’t have an exact number but that money can go into the general fund which can go to all sorts of things like education and different things.”
Sports gambling revenue in the US surpassed $1 billion in a calendar year for the first time ever in 2020, according to the American Gaming Association.
Colorado legalized sports gambling just prior to 2020 and took in more than $18M in gross revenue in year one. Arizona’s neighbor Nevada took in the most gross revenue from sports betting, making $61.8M.
What will happen to problem gamblers?
The bills set aside potential revenue for Arizona’s Division of Problem Gambling, which is part of the Department of Gaming. The division has resources for people addicted to gambling in its many forms. According to one of the counselors offered through the division’s website, Sue Figueroa, there is no money aimed at directly confronting problem sports gamblers because sports gambling isn’t legal. This bill would change that.
“People are going to gamble regardless of legal or illegal. They will do it,” Figueroa said. “At some point legislation has to do something to regulate and to make whoever is in charge pay and to contribute.”
Figueroa has been in recovery from an addiction to slot machines for 18 years and says the danger of sports gambling addiction is real, but she also says that the problem is already here. Keeping sports gambling illegal will not keep sports gambling addicts from participating, she believes.
“It’s an obsession of the mind. It’s a disease of the mind. It’s an emotional illness,” Figueroa said. “[Legalizing sports betting] is an opportunity for our state to increase the revenue because we are, as I say providing, treatment for people who are affected by sports bettors, sports betting, so we are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into treating these individuals and then we are not receiving any income.”