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Arizona Sports Betting Is Already A Complete Debacle

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Arizona has announced the ‘lucky winners’ of the 10 sports betting licenses allocating to tribal gaming operators.
  • In addition, eight professional sports organizations have also received sportsbook licenses.
  • The state’s absurd license allocation process could seriously undermine what would otherwise be a top tier sports betting market.
  • The state is already facing two lawsuits over the process by which licenses were awarded and more are likely to come.

One of the pithiest quotes of all time is likely a complete misattribution but it did produce an exceptionally useful idiom: ‘the devil is in the details’. Legendary American/German architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe is often credited with this quote but revisionist history now suggests that he said the diametric opposite. What he was likely referring to is an early German proverb: Der liebe Gott steckt im detail. That translates to ‘God is in the detail’ but at some point the proper reading of the quote was flip flopped and an ‘S’ added on the end. Another problem with crediting this idiom to Van Der Rohe is that it didn’t become commonly used until the last decade of the 20th Century. Since Van Der Rohe passed away in 1969, it’s a tough sell to establish him as the original source of this quote.

There’s some research online suggesting that the earliest appearance in print of this phrase was in Richard Mayne’s 1963 discourse on the workings of the European Union entitled The Community of Europe:

On the principle that ‘the devil is in the details’, what should have been a merely formal occasion developed into a debate about the Community’s official languages and the site of its headquarters.

Since the groundwork of what is known today as the European Union (or EU) began to take shape immediately after World War II but not officially codified until the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 the use of the phrase here is definitely apropos. Maybe one day I’ll get credit for keeping it alive through the early 21st Century since it is also a perfect fit for so many of the bumbling attempts to regulate sports betting in the United States. No matter how good a state’s sports betting ecosystem looks ‘on paper’ there’s always a multitude of ways to screw it up in the implementation process either due to incompetence or by design. That’s what is so miraculous about Colorado’s sports betting scene–they had a number of chances to completely bungle the creation and implementation of the regulatory framework but with the exception of a few minor issues they completely nailed it.

Unfortunately, regulators and politicians able to see the macro of what sports betting could mean for their state are a decided minority. At the time the Supreme Court overturned PASPA I spoke to a number of media outlets wanting to know what would happen next. They were usually surprised to learn that I wasn’t overly excited about what many perceived as a bold new era for US sports betting. My position then was that since it all had to be implemented state by state the majority of them would find a way to screw it up. A handful would get it right but most would make a mockery of sports betting.

To paraphrase the great Arn Anderson–I don’t want to toot my own horn but ‘toot toot’. Technically, the US is closing in on half of the states plus the District of Columbia with some form of legal sports betting. Unfortunately, there’s less than ten where sports bettors have it any better than they did before PASPA. The rest of the states have failed their citizens–sports bettors or not–by taking an industry with a worldwide value in the trillions and a catalyst for massive economic benefits (eg: investment, jobs, tax revenue) and turned it into a gimmick game for the lottery or even worse a complete dumpster fire fueled by a combination of hubris, corruption and utter stupidity. If you’re a sports bettor in states like Oregon or Tennessee you’re pretty much in the same boat that you would have found yourself in twenty years ago.

Arizona won’t be as bad as those bottom feeding states. Worst case scenario, sports bettors in Arizona will have well over a dozen online betting options in a matter of months putting them in the upper tier of that metric. They’ll also have some nice retail sports betting venues in and around Phoenix. Unfortunately, if you look ‘under the hood’ Arizona’s sports betting framework is a mishmash of dimwitted incompetence and sheer imperiousness on the part of the state’s political elite. In particular, the process of license allocation is nothing more than shameless cronyism and log-rolling with a veneer of objectivity slapped on create some ‘plausible deniability’.

Look for a deep dive on the Arizona sports betting dumpster fire this weekend. We’ll look at who was approved for a sports betting license, focus on the downright bizarre licensing process and why its so problematic, consider the even uglier optics of the licensing mess and review the immediate blowback. I’ll also try to look in my crystal ball and figure out where it goes from here in both best case and worst case scenario. Strap in–this is going to be a long and bumpy ride.

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