Tribes Feel ‘Left Behind’ In Hot Arizona Sports Betting Market

Written By Jarrett Huff on December 14, 2022
governor ducey tribes arizona sports betting market

With the Arizona sports betting industry booming, not all parties are reaping the rewards — that being the Native American tribes. The tribes fear they’re losing their place in the market.

While in 2022, tribal gaming in Arizona has contributed a record amount to the state as of Dec. 2, there’s fear that it’s all downhill from here. Many fear they won’t be able to compete with commercial sports betting in Arizona in the long term.

According to the Arizona Department of Gaming (ADG), tribes contributed around $123.6 million to the state government — 90% of which goes toward the department.

Ted Vogt, director of the ADG, is pleased with the numbers tribal gaming has produced. Vogt said:

“It is safe to say 2022 was historic for Arizona tribal gaming. I am ecstatic to see the highest levels of tribal contributions to the state following the Amended Tribal-State Gaming Compact signed by Gov, Doug Ducey last year.”

What is the Amended Tribal-State Gaming Compact?

The Amended Tribal-State Gaming Compact puts limitations on casinos; however, it allows for them to only be owned and operated by tribes within the state. Despite this, the amendment allows for entities that are not tribes to operate sportsbooks within the state – something that is a concern for the National Indian Gaming Association.

Jason Giles, the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, said:

“The big fear now is loss of exclusivity. Gaming is the only thing that has ever worked for us. Since 1492 when Columbus landed, it’s the only thing that has worked. That’s why we fight so hard.”

Arizona gambling competition among tribes is problematic

Arizona legalized sports betting in April 2021, with a different requirement for operators looking to acquire a sports betting license when compared to other states; they have to be a Native American tribe or a professional sports team or league. With that, Arizona only allows for 20 licenses in the state; 10 for the tribes and 10 for commercial operators.

Twenty-two tribes in the state of Arizona compete over the 10 licenses granted to them, while only eight of the 10 available licenses are currently in use by commercial entities. In the first full year of legalized sports betting in Arizona, over 95% of the $5.4 billion wagered came from five AZ sports betting apps:

  • Barstool Sports
  • BetMGM
  • Caesars
  • DraftKings
  • FanDuel

Charlene Jackson, an attorney who represents rural tribes in Arizona, felt the tribes were at a disadvantage from the start when sports betting was legalized:

“The competition for the commercial licenses wasn’t there. From Day 1, those that knew they met [Arizona] Department of Gaming standards were free to start planning, spending the money, putting together their advertising, bringing in technology, seeking the licenses for that technology – expending that capital and investing in sports betting. They did this while those of us on the tribal side were competing for a license.

“Quite frankly, we were left behind,” Jackson said. “The numbers reflect that.”

With casinos confined to reservation lands, it’s difficult for the tribes to drive traffic the way commercial sportsbooks can. The competition thrives in bars, restaurants, sporting venues and on phones across the state – unrestricted by reservation boundaries.

Maybe 10 sports betting licenses for tribes is a good thing?

While there are some out there that would like to see all 22 tribes in Arizona receive a sports betting license, others argue the market couldn’t handle the competition.

Jackson believes the state was right in giving the tribes only 10 licenses was the right move. The flipside could see over 30 licenses in the state. She had this to say on how the market would handle that:

“We did not know that the market would hold that. If a tribe went to market and shut its doors, that would be worse.”

Arizona sportsbooks with pro sports team partnerships

The commercial sportsbooks quickly aligned themselves with professional sports teams due to the lack of competition between the teams and venues.

Here are the eight AZ sportsbooks with league partnerships:

  • Bally’s: Phoenix Mercury
  • Barstool Sports: Phoenix Raceway
  • BetMGM: Arizona Cardinals
  • Caesars: Arizona Diamondbacks
  • DraftKings: PGA Tour and TPC Scottsdale
  • FanDuel: Phoenix Suns
  • Rush Street Interactive: Arizona Rattlers
  • Sahara Bets: Arizona Coyotes
Photo by Ross D. Franklin / AP
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Jarrett Huff

Jarrett Huff is a former sports editor at Northern Star Media from Wonder Lake, Illinois. Friends and family will tell you he's an NBA history nerd with a diehard passion for the Chicago Bulls, Bears and Cubs.

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