Senate committee advances bill to allow sports betting in Arizona

PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to make it easier for Arizonans to wager on sporting events.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 6-3 a measure Tuesday that would permit most tribes to take bets on professional and amateur sporting events at the casinos they operate.

More significantly, Senate Bill 1163 also would allow each tribe to operate multiple off-site betting facilities at bars through the use of remote devices or kiosks, with the state getting a share of the amount of money wagered there. The legislation, as worded, potentially could create about 100 of these sites.

Tuesday’s vote came over the objections of nearly every tribe that potentially could benefit.

Officials of several tribes told lawmakers the issues are far more complex than as laid out in the proposal by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City. They said the questions should be addressed as part of negotiations they’re already having with Gov. Doug Ducey over changes to the existing tribal gaming compacts.

Only the Navajo Nation is promoting the legislation.

Dwight Witherspoon, a tribal staffer, told lawmakers that nearly half of Navajo Nation residents are unemployed and more than a third live without electricity and running water.

“Our primary goal is to develop and diversify our Navajo economy,” he said. “We are an adaptable people, a resourceful people. And we would like to be self-reliant again.”

Witherspoon said the tribe figures that off-site sports betting could help attract many residents of the Flagstaff area who now go to Las Vegas to gamble.

That flight of cash elsewhere also bothers Borrelli: “I’m tired of seeing our money going to Nevada, I’m tired of seeing our money going offshore.”

He said denying Arizonans the opportunity to wager on sports legally — and at convenient sites — enables “the illegal bookie at the end of the bar.”

The legislation follows a ruling last year by the U.S. Supreme Court voiding the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That federal law made it illegal for states to legalize sports wagering.

Ducey said earlier this year he is interested in renegotiating the compacts the state signed with tribes after voters decided nearly two decades ago to give them the exclusive right to operate casinos in the state.

“The world has changed dramatically since the year 2000,” he said.

Borrelli’s bill would allow tribes to set up remote wagering sites at three kinds of places: full bars, bars licensed to serve beer and wine only, and fraternal organizations like the VFW that have liquor licenses. That’s designed to pretty much make wagering unavailable to anyone younger than 21, Borelli said.

It’s also for convenience, he said.

“I’m not going to drive 40 miles down the road to bet $10 on the Cardinals or the Diamondbacks,” he said. “But if I’m in my American Legion or VFW in Lake Havasu, I can place a bet.”

Tuesday’s vote sent the measure to the full Senate.

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