Latest Arizona Sports Betting Proposal Derailed By A Typo

Arizona lawmakers filed a “strike everything” amendment Friday that would have revived the issue of legal sports betting and allowed WestWorld, a massive Scottsdale convention space that hosts the annual Barrett-Jackson collector car auction, to apply for an operator license. But a typo in the new language appears to have killed the latest attempt at moving a legal sports betting bill.

On March 25, the “strike everything” amendment — which means a bill is stripped of its content and replaced with something else — was filed for SB 1293, which began its life as a refrigerated products bill. The bill had already passed through the Senate and was on the agenda for Tuesday’s House Appropriations Committee as late as Monday night. But prior to the meeting, the bill was pulled from the agenda.

The new language in SB 1293 includes this section (emphasis added):

“MOTORSPORTS EVENT” MEANS A NATIONAL TOURING RACING EVENT THAT IS CONDUCTED UNDER THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STOCK CAR RACING TOUR OR A COLLECTOR CAR AUCTION EVENT THAT IS HELD ANNUALLY IN THIS STATE AND THAT LISTS MORE THAN NINETY PERCENT OF VEHICLES WITH NO RESERVE, WITH AN AVERAGE ATTENDANCE OF MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED FIFTY ATTENDEES PER YEAR FOR THE EVENT.

Tribes not comfortable with latest language

That section was designed to ensure that Phoenix Raceway, which hosts multiple NASCAR events every year, was included among the professional sports venues that would be eligible for a sports wagering operator license. But it also adds WestWorld to the mix, and according to sources, was supposed to read “attendance of more than 150,000 attendees.”

The typo, which could have been easily corrected, sources say, “spooked” Arizona’s tribes, which have already agreed to give up exclusivity for sports betting by agreeing to a statewide mobile component and retail locations at sports venues. Read literally, the new language would seem to allow for any bar, restaurant, convenience store — really any venue — that invites 150 people to a car auction once a year to qualify for a sports wagering operators’ license.

“The tribes became spooked that this would be another way around the compact that has already been negotiated with the governor,” the source said.

Arizona’s tribes were supportive of previous versions of sports betting vehicles in a market that would not afford them exclusivity via new compacts. But negotiating with tribes in any state is a delicate balance, and Arizona’s tribes would have been only the third behind Michigan and Connecticut to give up exclusivity under certain conditions. Connecticut’s tribes did so earlier this month, but in limited fashion after painstaking negotiations, while Michigan’s tribes agreed to be regulated and taxed by the state, and all 12 offer statewide mobile wagering.

Broadly speaking, from a tribal perspective, the concern is keeping and creating jobs, providing services, and otherwise generating income for the tribal nation. In practical terms, the question becomes “How much foot traffic would mobile wagering/giving up exclusivity keep from brick-and-mortar casinos?” From that perspective, allowing wagering at businesses of all shapes and sizes would be enough for the tribes to withdraw support.

What’s next?

Beyond the typo, it’s curious that the “strike everything” amendment would add WestWorld to the list of venues able to apply for a sports wagering license. The convention center would be the first anywhere in the U.S. to be able to apply for a license. The venue holds everything from horse and dog shows to home shows to martial arts events to a wellness expo.

The turn of events is particularly unfortunate, as the issue of sports betting in Arizona has been nettled with political issues, so adding a miscommunication with the tribes only serves to push the proposal closer to dead than alive.

On the Senate side, sports betting had been added to a historical horse racing bill, which initially appeared to be a death knell, as historical horse racing would trigger the “poison pill.” A poison pill is any issue that would violate the tribal-state compacts, and historical horse racing is not legal under the compacts, making it a violation. The move was political and designed to help prop up the horse-racing industry, but in recent weeks, it appeared that lawmakers would back off historical horse racing and allow sports betting to move forward on its own.

The original bills, HB 2772 and SB 1797, would have allowed for 10 mobile and retail sports betting licenses each for commercial properties (pro sports venues) and tribal casinos. There has been some question all along about how that would work, since there are fewer than 10 pro sports venues and more than 10 tribal casinos. But it is looking more and more like that will be an issue for another session.

What happens now is anyone’s guess. The session ends on April 24, and several bills that could be amended remain alive in both chambers.