Arizona Gaming Compacts Get Federal Approval, Here’s What’s Next

Posted on May 25, 2021

Arizona sports betting cleared a major hurdle this week. However, don’t expect legal sportsbooks to start popping up at AZ tribal casinos and sports stadiums next week.

There is still a lot of work to be done before Arizonians will actually be able to place legal wagers either in person or online. The quick approval from the federal government is a good sign, though. It also increases the chances that you will be betting online in Arizona before the end of the year.

Arizona gaming compacts get the ok from the feds

Tribal gaming in the United States is governed by compacts that have three parties to them:

  • The relevant tribal groups
  • The appropriate states
  • US Dept. of the Interior’s Bureau of Indiana Affairs (BIA)

The AZ legislature passed an enabling bill in April. Gov. Doug Ducey signed that legislation into law a few days later, representing re-negotiated terms with the 16 tribal casino operators.

From there, it was up to the BIA. The Bureau reviews all gaming compacts for compliance with federal gambling laws. On Monday, the BIA gave its consent.

So, how does this affect a potential timeline for expanded gambling in Arizona? That depends on what part of that expansion you’re talking about.

More action at AZ tribal casinos

As the new compact terms are now official, AZ tribal casino operators are free to launch the new table games afforded them immediately. Those include:

  • Baccarat
  • Craps
  • Pai Gao Poker
  • Roulette
  • Sic Bo

The compacts also enable an expansion in the number of slot machines available at the properties as a whole. The entire contingent of tribal casinos in the state can add 6,300 more machines across their facilities.

Those new gambling options will be available as soon as the respective casinos can build them out. The same goes for potential new casinos, with some caveats.

New casinos coming to Phoenix?

The new compacts authorize a massive increase in the number of casinos that the parties can operate in agreement with the state. The total now sits at 55.

Plans only exist for four, however. Locations for two of them, run by the Gila River Indian Community and Tohono O’odham Nation, are in Phoenix. Operators for the other two are still discussing locations.

There is no timeline for groundbreaking on either Phoenix facility. Local governments might still have some matters to address with the casino operators. As far as the state is concerned, however, those are good to go.

So, what about daily fantasy sports, retail sportsbooks, and Arizona online sports betting? That’s where there is still some work left for the state.

AZ regulators can officially get to work

It’s the AZ Dept. of Gaming’s time to shine. The department now has the task of drafting regulations for DFS and sports betting in the state. Among things it will have to decide are:

  • Licensee fees and renewal terms
  • Oversight procedures like reporting of stakeholders’ financial interests
  • Tax rates for DFS/sportsbook revenue
  • Whether non-tribal sports betting licenses will be held by facility owners or sports teams

After a first draft is submitted, there will be a public comment period. Following that, the department can finalize regulations, which normally include license applications.

After applicants complete those, regulators will review and vet them. If approved, that’s where the process gets a little different for online vs. retail betting.

Inspecting physical sportsbooks’ systems for compliance is usually a quicker task than it is for online sports betting apps. It’s typical to see retail books launch prior to their online components in the same market for that reason.

Interested parties could choose to start fitting out their spaces for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in anticipation of license approval in an effort to get up and running as quickly as possible. When might that be? Federal approval is another indicator.

Fall 2021 still looking good for Arizona betting launch

The speed with which the BIA approved the compacts does lend itself to a launch of retail sportsbooks later this year. It’s possible that when the Arizona Cardinals start their 2021-22 season, State Farm Stadium will be home to a shiny new sportsbook.

Online launches of regulated DFS and sports betting could happen later this year or even early 2022. Either way, the federal approval of Arizona gaming compacts is good news for interested AZ bettors.

Photo by AP / Felicia Fonseca
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