Sahara Bets In Jeopardy After Tempe Rejects Arizona Coyotes

Written By Cole Rush on June 7, 2023
Sahara Bets' partnership with the Phoenix Coyotes could be in jeopardy

The Arizona Coyotes may not have “Arizona” in their name for long.

The team’s proposed $2.1 billion entertainment complex – including a home arena for the Coyotes – was overwhelmingly rejected by Tempe voters last month. Despite the team being optimistic the vote would go their way, residents showed up in record numbers to show their dissatisfaction with the plan.

ESPN quoted a team source after the vote.

“There’s no Plan B at this point.”

The team’s betting partner, Sahara Bets, could also be out of Arizona after the Coyotes’ defeat at the ballot box.

Tempe voters soundly defeat plan to build entertainment complex for Coyotes

While betting on the Coyotes is not a safe bet, overall Arizona online sports betting has been brisk. The Phoenix Suns made it to the Western Conference semifinals, and the MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks are currently leading the National League West Division.

The entertainment complex for the Coyotes required three ballot questions to pass, propositions 301, 302 and 303. All three failed.

Props 301 and 302 failed 56% to 44%, while 303 lost 57% to 43%, according to AZCentral. In fact, turnout was so strong in early voting that there weren’t enough same-day ballots to swing the vote in the Coyotes’ favor.

This final blow came after a series of losses for the Coyotes over the years.

  • A 2009 bankruptcy filing, which resulted in temporary ownership by the NHL
  • A bitter split from Glendale
  • Various potential relocations that all fell through, including one to the Arizona State University campus
  • Missing the playoffs 10 of the last 11 seasons

The Coyotes must now take their talents elsewhere, but nobody’s quite sure where that’ll be. The failure of the team’s Tempe initiative also leaves another Arizona entity in jeopardy: Sahara Bets Sportsbook.

Sahara Bets could be high and dry if Coyotes leave the state

Arizona sports betting law allows for up to 20 sportsbook licenses: 10 for sports franchises and 10 for the state’s Native American tribes. Sahara Bets is part of the former group via its partnership with the Arizona Coyotes. But what happens if the Coyotes abandon the desert for icier pastures?

First, it’s likely that Sahara Bets and the Arizona Coyotes would part ways. No bad blood, of course. Just sheer necessity. What use does an Arizona sportsbook operator have for a partnership with an out-of-state team?

Without a partner, Sahara Bets can’t operate in Arizona. The state requires operators to have a license partner, and the Arizona Coyotes would leave Sahara Bets partnerless.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that Sahara Bets and the Arizona Coyotes are both owned by Alex Meruelo. Sahara Bets was a shoo-in for the partnership because he owns the team. Other organizations may not be so quick to partner up with a lesser-known brand.

Sahara Bets does have a few options in Arizona

Last month, PlayAZ contemplated the possible contenders for the vacant license left by Fubo Sportsbook’s exit from Arizona. Now, the Coyotes would leave another license spot up for grabs. That’s good news for Sahara Bets. Should the Coyotes leave the state, there are still some AZ sports franchises that have yet to partner with sportsbooks.

Here’s a quick look at the franchises that do have partners:

  • Phoenix Suns: FanDuel
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: Caesars
  • Phoenix Mercury: Bally Bet
  • Arizona Cardinals: BetMGM
  • Phoenix Raceway/NASCAR: Barstool
  • PGA/TPC Scottsdale: DraftKings
  • Arizona Rattlers: (BetRivers)

AZ sports fans will quickly realize that’s most of the household names in the state. Sahara could explore a few remaining options, such as the Phoenix Rising FC of the USL. The Tucson Saguaros of the Pecos League or the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL could also be contenders. Still, it’s hard to say whether any of those teams would be interested in a sports betting partnership or license.

There’s the financial angle to consider, too. The Arizona Department of Gaming charges $750,000 initially for licensing, plus $100,000 as an application fee and a yearly $150,000 renewal. No small potatoes and Sahara Bets would need to partner with an organization that’s both able and willing to shell out the license fees upfront.

Two new casinos are coming to Arizona as well. One will be in Phoenix, the Desert Diamond, operated by the Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise, and the Santan Mountain Casino in Chandler, run by the Gila River Indian Community. Both tribes have partnerships already. The Tohono O’odham Nation runs Desert Diamond, while the Gila River Tribe is partnered with BetMGM Sportsbook AZ.

All 10 tribal licenses are spoken for, which means Sahara Bets would need to find a sports franchise to partner with.

Vultures circling?

One vacant license following Fubo’s exit and another potential opening if the Coyotes leave Arizona could create a feeding frenzy among operators. Sahara Bets could be among them.

Other potential operators interested in the Arizona market could include PointsBet (the operator’s US assets were recently acquired by Fanatics), Betr, Sports Illustrated, and many others. Because of the limited number of licenses available, Arizona remains a highly competitive market.

If the coyotes leave, we could see a race and/or a bidding war to get in on the action.

Photo by Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo
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Cole Rush

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. Most of those words can be found in gambling publications such as PlayIllinois, iGaming Business, Gaming Today,,, ICE 365, and IGB North America. Cole also covers pop culture and books for and Cole has more than eight years of experience writing about gambling and entertainment.

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