Expect More Tribal Applicants Than Available AZ Sportsbook Licenses

Written By Matthew Kredell on July 28, 2021 - Last Updated on January 30, 2023
Not enough tribal betting licenses

The Arizona Department of Gaming will have its work cut out for it in choosing 10 licensees for mobile sports wagering licenses among Native American tribes.

Robert Miguel, tribal council chairman for the Ak-Chin Indian Community, tells PlayAZ that he expects at least 16 applicants from Arizona tribes.

“I know everybody is hoping to get a license,” Miguel said. “Whoever has a gaming facility, I think they’re going to apply.”

Arizona has 22 federally recognized tribes, but only 16 operate casinos. Tribes don’t necessarily need a casino to offer wagering online, and tribes without casinos are even encouraged to apply.

The Arizona Department of Gaming (ADG) began taking applications Monday. The application period lasts 10 business days, closing Aug. 9. The ADG will announce licenses awarded by Aug. 16.

Tribal licenses left up to regulatory body to decide

Arizona tribes negotiated a new compact with the governor that created 20 online sports betting licenses, 10 each for tribes and Arizona professional sports entities.

The curious aspect of that arrangement is that there aren’t 10 professional sports entities in Arizona. But there are more than 10 gaming tribes.

Did the tribes have a plan on how to distribute those licenses amongst themselves? Miguel said there was never any talk of an arrangement between tribes. Licensure was always going to be left up to the ADG.

“That’s what makes us a little nervous,” Miguel said. “We want to of course own a license to get this going, but are we going to get it? We’re preparing as if we are, but we’re also preparing for if we don’t.”

All tribal casinos can have retail sports betting under their compacts, though that might not be a worthwhile endeavor without an online aspect.

How the ADG will choose between tribal applicants

So how will the ADG pick winners and losers when it comes to qualified gaming tribes?

In its final rules, the Department listed 19 criteria it will consider:

  1. Business ability, experience, and track record of the tribe and/or management services provider applicant, both locally and internationally, in sports wagering.
  2. The same experience and track record in gaming as a whole.
  3. The size of the tribal community and impact of gaming revenue.
  4. Good standing in all markets.
  5. Commitment to make local investments in the state or on tribal lands.
  6. Culture of player protection.
  7. Responsiveness, approachability, and involvement in local management.
  8. Competency to conduct event wagering, including proposed internal controls and the maximization of privilege fees to the state.
  9. Ability to begin operating event wagering within six months of licensure.
  10. Financial stability, resources, and integrity.
  11. Regulatory compliance and cooperation.
  12. The lack of opportunity to benefit from event wagering without a license.
  13. Whether the issuance of the license will provide benefits to other qualified applicants through partnerships or other opportunities.
  14. Increased employment and enhancement of the labor market.
  15. A preference for applicants and partners with a physical location in the state.
  16. A preference that licenses be distributed among non-gaming tribes, rural gaming tribes, and tribes located near metropolitan areas.
  17. Whether the applicant appeals to a unique or unaddressed market, or introduces a unique brand or affiliate.
  18. Whether the license would increase the patron base in the state.
  19. Any other criteria thought up by the Department during the process.

Application process has tribes on edge

Well, that clears up very little.

Non-gaming tribes actually get preference for a license … but so do rural and metropolitan-area tribes.

Tribes located closest to Phoenix have made the most impact in gaming, but they also could more easily benefit from event wagering without a mobile license.

Many of the criteria also take into account a tribe’s management services provider, but few tribes have announced such partnerships. The Yavapai-Apache Nation partnered with PointsBet and the San Carlos Apache Tribe with Wynnbet Sportsbook.

Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino is located less than an hour from Phoenix. It has an existing relationship with Caesars Entertainment for casino operations. However, Miguel wouldn’t reveal if that relationship will extend to sports betting. Caesars already has partnered with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“We’re crossing our fingers,” Miguel said about getting a license. “I’m sure everybody feels confident. It’s a roll of a dice, per se. We’ll see what happens.”

Could tribal partnerships play key role in licensure?

Criteria No. 13 could play a critical role in license allocation. Once again, it looks at whether the license provides benefits to other qualified applicants through partnerships or other opportunities.

“Tribes seeking a license might have to partner with another tribe to obtain a license,” Miguel said. “However, this would obviously diminish revenue per tribes, sharing that license.”

Participating on a panel with Miguel at the National Indian Gaming Association convention in Las Vegas last week, Francisco Valencia, tribal council secretary for the Pascua Yaqui, hinted that his Tucson-area tribe is looking to partner.

“Over the last 20-plus years, tribes have been very creative with partners,” Valencia said. “We’ll find a way. It will allow us to partner even with those tribes that have partners with some of the big players. They’ve got better situations than us in Tuscon. We don’t have any professional teams. Being creative, I think we’re going to get to a better place.”

Photo by Zarin Andrey | Dreamstime.com
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt began as a sports writer at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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