Phoenix Rising, Yavapai-Apache Nation Likely Candidates For AZ Sports Betting Licenses

Written By Darren Cooper on July 26, 2023 - Last Updated on August 30, 2023
Three sports betting licenses are up for grabs in Arizona.

Arizona could soon bestow three new sports betting licenses to sportsbook operators. The application process begins Aug. 1 and closes Aug. 15.

The state’s unique rules allow 10 licenses to go to sportsbooks partnered with professional sports teams and 10 licenses to operators partnered with tribal nations. There are two sports team licenses available and one tribal license.

If approved, the operators have six months to launch. That means Arizona could see three new sportsbooks operating in the state by early 2024.

A Rising candidate for one sports betting license

There are currently 17 Arizona online sportsbooks, plus several retail sportsbooks. Lifetime sports betting handle recently surpassed $10 billion in Arizona.

The leading candidate for one of the professional sports slots is the Phoenix Rising. The Rising are in the United Soccer League, which is a minor league circuit of American soccer (think Triple-A baseball). Christened the Arizona United SC in 2014 before changing its name, the team does not have a betting partner.

This is where things get a little murky. Arizona law states licenses should go to “pro teams playing at the highest level.” The Rising does not qualify under a strict interpretation of that sentence, but they do play at the highest level of any team in Arizona. The Rising ownership group also plans to have a team in the new women’s soccer league, the USL Super League, which will start play in August 2024. That will be the highest level of women’s soccer available.

The Rising were denied a license when sports betting began in 2021, but franchise leaders have made it clear they intend to apply again. Rising Club Gov. Bill Kraus told the team is optimistic about its chances this time around.

“We have solved or corrected a few of the issues we had with our first application.”

The Rising are currently 6-5-8 and in 10th place in the Western Conference of the USL. They play home games at Phoenix Rising Soccer Stadium (capacity 10,000) and averaged 6,823 fans at home games last season.

Sportsbooks must find a partner for this dance

The leading candidate to partner with the Rising or the tribe has to be Fanatics, which recently bought PointsBet’s US business for $150 million. Fanatics clearly want to get involved in the sports betting industry in an established market like Arizona.

Another possible candidate could be European sports betting behemoth bet365 sportsbook AZ, which has a presence in New Jersey, Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia. Bet365 thrives on soccer. An outlier could be SI Sportsbook, which has a small footprint, operating only in Colorado, Virginia, and Michigan.

Another possibility is that a team with an existing license, like the Cardinals or Diamondbacks, could apply for a second license. They could brand one sportsbook within their own facility, then a second one off-site.

Yavapai-Apache Nation could be in position to seek a license

It’s a bigger question which one of Arizona’s existing tribal communities will apply for a sports betting license. This slot became open when Fubo closed in July, leaving the Ak-Chin Indian Community without a partner.

One contender sure to be interested is the Yavapai-Apache Nation. They had an earlier partnership with PointsBet but that fell through. The Yavapai-Apache Nation opened the Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde in 1995.

Another contender could be the Colorado River Indian Tribe. The tribe operates BlueWater Resort and applied for a license with BlueBet Sportsbook back in August 2021.

Applying for a sports betting license is not cheap. Applicants must pay a $100,000 application fee. The licensing fee (if approved) is $750,000, with an annual fee of $150,000. Licenses allow teams to have a physical sportsbook location, as well as a partnership on a mobile betting app.

The Arizona Department of Gaming has until Sept. 12 to determine which entities to award the licenses to.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

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