- Arizona has awarded 18 sports betting licensees to a bizarre mishmash of tribal gaming operators and professional sports teams.
- Sports betting is scheduled to go live in Arizona on September 9 though at least two pending lawsuits are putting that start date into jeopardy.
- There has been little to no transparency about how the licenses were allocated, particularly as it relates to the tribal gaming operators.
I’m still trying to unpack the regulatory fiasco that is Arizona sports betting. It looks like an especially cynical attempt to use what will be a relatively decent betting market externally as a subterfuge giving cover to politics, cronyism and incompetence behind the scenes. There’s a lot to cover and the lack of transparency from the state has made figuring out how the actual decision making process went down very difficult. I get the vibe that the decision making was very arbitrary despite a slew of state specified ‘guidelines’ being used as a smokescreen. Many of the ‘judgement calls’ regarding licensing at least superficially seem to contradict guidelines. The state contradicts itself in many of their publications, such as this one from the outline of allocation criteria–I’ll put the link below if you want to check them out but I’ll be going through this part of the document in details within the next few days:
The Department will make allocation decisions as quickly as reasonably possible under the circumstances given the number of qualified applicants and complexity of the decision-making process.
ARIZONA SPORTS BETTING LICENSE ALLOCATION GUIDELINES (PDF)
That sounds reasonable, right? Problem is that the state set up a firm 8 day ‘evaluation period’ between the deadline for application submission and yesterday’s announcement. Since I’m doubting that any work was done on the weekends that leaves six days to work through a significant number of licensees and a ‘complex’ decision making process.
Pouring fuel on the optics of a highly subjective and ethically dubious selection process is the behavior of state government–they’ve refused several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiries from media sources into the specifics of how licensing decisions were made. This alone doesn’t *prove* corruption, cronyism or anything else but it’s definitely how the state would respond if they were concerned about the perception that things weren’t on the up and up. They might claim that they couldn’t do this due to all of the ‘proprietary financial information’ involved but remember that this could all be redacted. Of course from a cynical political standpoint it’s probably better to release nothing than release a heavily redacted document that would provide a visible example of the state government’s evasiveness. Making the entire process even more sleazy–tribes were required to pay a $100,000 USD nonrefundable application fee despite the fact that they had a 50/50 chance of not being approved and facing vague standards and a convoluted process. BTW, y’all might enjoy following me on Instagram–along with pictures of my travels, food porn, my wife and random dogs you’ll get stuff like this. Here’s the actual Arizona license allocation criteria. As I quipped over on the IG ‘gym contracts think this document’s type is ridiculously small’:
Just to make clear–I have no problem whatsoever with any of the companies they *did* license, specifically the sports betting operators. They’re all highly respected and competent. It wasn’t like, say, Tennessee where they licensed a sportsbook operated by a payday loan company with no prior gaming experience. My concern is with the tribes and companies that *didn’t* get licensed. One example–Gila River Casinos did not receive a license which is almost unfathomable if you know anything about the hierarchy of the Arizona gaming industry. Gila River is the largest tribal gaming operator in the state operating three properties in the Phoenix area. These properties are all first rate and very well run. One of the listed criteria for the licensing process was the ability to get up and running quickly–Gila River was partnered with BetMGM and were ready to set up retail sportsbooks with kiosk wagering providing a temporary solution. For example, the Wildhorse Pass property has a AAA Four Diamond Rating, a hotel operated by Sheraton and the only AAA Five Diamond Award and Forbes Five Star Award winning restaurant and bar in Arizona (Kai). The place is gorgeous:
It’s hard to even speculate on the licensing criteria that would result in Gila River *not* passing with flying colors. Of course, since the state won’t release any information on the process all we can do is speculate. BetMGM is also partnered with the NFL Phoenix Cardinals so they’ll be able to launch mobile betting in the state despite the Gila River setback.
ARIZONA SPORTS BETTING LICENSEES
BallyBet/Phoenix Mercury (WNBA)
Barstool Sports/Phoenix Raceway
BetFred/Ft. McDowell Yavapai Nation
BetMGM/Arizona Cardinals (NFL)
BetRivers/Arizona Rattlers (Indoor Football)
Betway/San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe
Caesars Sportsbook/Arizona Diamondbacks
Fubo Gaming/Ak-Chin Indian Community
Golden Nugget/Hualapai Tribe
SuperBook/Fort Mojave Indian Tribe
Twin Spires/Tonto Apache Tribe
WynnBET/San Carlos Apache Tribe
In addition, several licenses were awarded despite the absence of a partnering sportsbook provider. Had the state been following the criteria it established this would have been a negative. How much of a negative–or whether it was even considered–can’t be ascertained due to the lack of transparency surrounding the process. Not a good look that several tribes with extremely capable partners (eg: Yavapai-Apache Nation partnered with PointsBet) didn’t make the cut while two without a sportsbook provider partnership did.
This group includes two tribal gaming providers:
The Navajo Nation (they operate the beautiful Twin Arrows Casino Resort near Flagstaff)
Tohono’Oodham Nation (they operate four Desert Diamond Casino branded properties)
and one professional sports team:
Arizona Coyotes (NHL)
All 15 of the above listed sportsbook companies are certainly worthy of being licensed in any jurisdiction. The sportsbooks were able to start accepting signups and deposits on Saturday in advance of the September 9 launch date for betting. That date is, of course, subject to the outcome of the legal challenges to the licensing process. I’ve made some perfunctory consultations with legal experts and based on their analysis there are some very compelling issues raised. I’m in the process of trying to get some more in-depth analysis as well as trying to get in touch with a lawyer that specializes in Native American affairs. I’m not a lawyer but I’m fairly well versed on the gaming aspects of Federal law as it relates to tribal entities. It sure looks like there are plenty of issues that can be raised on this front.