Gov. Doug Ducey says he’s open to the idea of allowing Arizonans to place bets on sporting events at 55 off-track betting sites around the state.
The governor said Tuesday that he wants to “maintain the culture and flavor of our state” in deciding who should get the right to offer wagering on professional and college sports. Historically, casino gaming has been limited to tribal lands, a deal cemented into state law by voters in 2002.
But Ducey said he’s looking for what could be the best deal for the state — and generate the most money. And that could mean changes.
“The world’s changed tremendously since the year 2000,” he noted.
What most recently changed was the Monday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court voiding federal laws that had precluded Arizona and most other states from allowing residents to place bets on sporting events.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” Ducey said.
It’s likely that the soonest Arizonans could legally place bets for or against the Wildcats would be next year.
The governor said it would be inaccurate to presume that whatever new revenue sports gaming brings to the state, whether through revenue sharing with the tribes or a share of the handle at tracks and OTB sites, will end up being earmarked for education.
While he looks at funding needs for education, he also has to be concerned about funding child safety, public safety and the state’s infrastructure, he said.
“There’s a long, long list of funding needs in this state that I’m aware of,” Ducey said. “I do think there’s a significant opportunity with gaming. But I do think we should have the public discourse and debate on where those dollars will be spent and where the highest priority is.”
Several Native American tribes already are expressing interest in revamping their agreements with the state to also allow them to offer sports wagering.
“Of course, we have the tribal gaming compact,” Ducey said. “And of course we want to respect that and make sure we’re properly communicating with the tribes. But there’s also other factors we want to take into account.”
One of those is that there already is sports gaming of a sort in Arizona.
That’s not just horse racing at sites including Turf Paradise in Phoenix. There also are 55 off-track betting sites scattered throughout the state, where Arizonans can place bets on horse- and dog-racing throughout the country.
Vince Francia, general manager of Turf Paradise, which also runs most of those OTB sites, wants in on any deal.
Francia said he would not expect Ducey and state lawmakers to limit sports wagering to the track.
“The word ‘exclusive’ has never entered our thought process on this,” he said.
Such a move would raise all sorts of legal issues, including a “poison pill” provision in the agreements the state has with tribes that would void the compacts — and the revenues the tribes now share with the state from other casino operations — if the state were to offer a new form of off-reservation gaming without their consent.
But Francia said when Ducey amends those compacts to let the tribes take bets on sporting events, there also could be a provision giving the same right to the tracks and the OTB sites.
Ducey gave all indications he’s willing to listen to what the track has to offer.
“We want to build out the stakeholder group, look at some best practices around the country and see how we can maximize this for the citizens of Arizona and for the general fund,” he said.