Don’t Look Now: TwinSpires Enters Mix Of Sportsbooks Partnering With Arizona Tribes

Written By Derek Helling on July 30, 2021

Time has become of the essence regarding Arizona sports betting. And the Tonto Apache Tribe isn’t dawdling.

With the license application period now open, the Tonto Apache has made a deal to create a TwinSpires Arizona sportsbook.

That’s provided they are one of 10 tribal gaming compact holders that get that application approved, however. While the deal with Churchill Downs might help, it’s not a guarantee of licensure.

TwinSpires Arizona is coming…possibly

Churchill Downs’ premier sports betting brand already operates in six other jurisdictions, including nearby Colorado. In addition, Churchill Downs also operates the BetAmerica Sportsbook in New Jersey but plans to rebrand it to TwinSpires in the near future.

On Friday, the Tonto Apache Tribe announced its collaboration with TwinSpires, which will handle the retail sports betting operation at the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino near Payson. Assuming regulatory approval, TwinSpires could also roll out an Arizona betting app.

“In conjunction with our world-class partner, we look forward to supporting the local community and bringing more visitors to the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino and our beautiful county,” said Tonto Apache Chairman Calvin Johnson.

Added Ian Williams, president of TwinSpires:

“The team behind the most exciting two minutes in sports is thrilled to partner with the Tonto Apache Tribe and pursue offering our leading sportsbook product and promotions to sports fans throughout Arizona.”

There is no doubt the Tonto Apache will seek one of 10 sports betting licenses earmarked for tribal casino operators. Whether they can do so confidently is another matter.

Could this partnership end up just an aspirational endeavor?

It appears that the competition for those 10 licenses will be heavy. In fact, the expectation is that at least 16 of the compact holders will vie for a license. The Tonto Apache is the fourth such entity to make that obvious by announcing an operational partner. The other three are:

The allocation procedures prioritize experience, among other things, so having a partner like TwinSpires should strengthen the Tonto Apache’s candidacy for a license as compared to the tribe going it alone. The financial resources of Churchill Downs won’t hurt, either.

Still, there are TwinSpires competitors who have yet to secure potential market access into Arizona, including the likes of BetMGM Sportsbook and BetRivers.

Tribal casino operators present an option for those brands, but so do the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Coyotes. Because of their ability to market directly to sports fans, those teams might be preferential partners for sports betting operators.

If those brands go that route, the Tonto Apache could have an edge thanks to TwinSpires. However, until the Arizona Department of Gaming starts approving tribal applications, this is all still in the realm of “if everything goes according to plan.”

Photo by AP / Stephen B. Morton
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