Arizona Sports Betting Bill Advances in Senate Despite Tribal Resistance

Posted on: February 27, 2019, 03:17h. 

Last updated on: February 27, 2019, 03:17h.

An Arizona sports betting bill was approved by the State Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, but it was only through some deft political maneuvering that Senator Sonny Borrelli’s (R-Havasu City) bill made it in front of the committee at all, the Phoenix Business Journal reports.

Arizona sports betting
Senator Sonny Birrelli’s bill would hand exclusivity on Arizona sports betting to tribal operators, while allowing them to own betting kiosks at commercial venues off reservation, but the tribes are skeptical. (Image: AZFamily)

Borrelli’s original sports betting bill, SB 1158, got stuck in a different committee last month — Commerce and Public Safety. The committee postponed a hearing on the bill because of an emergency clause Borrelli inserted that would have legalized sports betting without giving the Department of Gaming enough time to draw up a framework of regulation.

Rather than lose his shot at getting the job done on sports betting this year, Borrelli performed something called a strike-all amendment, whereby a lawmaker removes the entire text of one bill and replaces it with another.

It just so happened the Senator had another bill awaiting a hearing with the Appropriations Committee, so he made the switch. SB 1163 would have originally classified employment at a house of prostitution as a Class 1 misdemeanor, while making it a Class 5 felony to operate such an establishment. Now, SB 1163 would legalize sports betting.

Tribal-Commercial Tie-Up

Borrelli wants to authorize sports books at the state’s 24 tribal casinos, handing exclusivity to its 16 tribal operators. But the bill would also permit the tribes to place betting kiosks in privately owned sports bars and venues off tribal land.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of seeing our money going to Nevada and tired of seeing our money going off-shore,” Borrelli said. “In my book, options equal freedom and [this would] allow our citizens to participate in games they like.”

But despite this bill ostensibly being a boon to the tribes, they are almost universally against it. That’s because they believe sports betting legalization should be negotiated via their tribal compacts with the state, rather than by an act of the legislature. Tribal operators are generally inherently suspicious of efforts by legislatures to expand gambling even if – on the face of it – it would appear to be to their benefit.

Governor Pro Sports Betting

According to the Phoenix Business Journal, many tribal representatives were present at the committee hearing to voice opposition, while Borrelli tried to convince them there was no catch involved.

Tribal casinos contributed more than $96 million to the state’s general fund last year, money that goes to funding education, healthcare, conservation, tourism, and problem gambling programs.

The state’s governor Doug Ducey welcomed the Supreme Court’s rejection of PASPA, the federal ban on sports betting last year, declaring it a development that could “benefit our citizens and our general fund.”