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Gov. Ducey asks Legislature to allow sports betting in Arizona, on and off reservations
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Gov. Ducey asks Legislature to allow sports betting in Arizona, on and off reservations

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Fans cheer while watching a college basketball tournament game in the sports book at The Mirage in Las Vegas in this 2014 photo. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey wants the state Legislature to allow sports betting here.

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey wants to open the door to allowing Arizonans to bet on the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals.

And maybe even the Wildcats and the Sun Devils.

He also wants wagering on fantasy leagues and instant keno games, and to allow mobile devices to be used to place bets.

And all of that would be available off reservation.

On a virtual call with Sean Miller, the Arizona Wildcats coach talked about why he thinks Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji all got drafted by the right teams. He also explains his reasons for having a smaller 2021 recruiting class.

Now he needs the Arizona Legislature to go along and repeal the laws that now prohibit such gambling.

In a document given to lawmakers Wednesday, the Republican governor said he has negotiated a new compact with Arizona tribes, which have the exclusive right to operate casino-style wagering in Arizona, albeit with certain limits.

The new deal, Ducey said, will result in more revenue for the tribes and more money for state government, which currently gets a share of tribal gaming revenues.

“Our goal is to bring Arizona gaming into the 21st century,” Ducey press aide C.J. Karamargin told Capitol Media Services.

“A lot has changed since the first compacts were signed, back when cellphones weren’t the thing they are now,” he said. “The world looks a lot different today and our proposal is intended to reflect the way people live their lives today.”

Ducey has that opening because the current 20-year compacts, approved by voters in 2002, are going to be expiring.

The tribes are interested in keeping the revenues flowing. And for Ducey, revised compacts are a way to generate additional dollars for the state without imposing new taxes at a time he wants lawmakers to enact more tax cuts.

Also helping his goal is that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a 1992 federal law forbidding most states from allowing such wagering. The court’s majority ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was an unconstitutional move by Congress to tell states what they can and cannot do.

Ducey has long been interested in generating more money through expanding gaming.

In fact, he attempted in 2018 to fund part of his teacher pay package by convincing Arizonans to play keno, a game in which players choose several numbers and wait to see how many match those generated by a computer. Keno already is an option on reservations.

But the plan for off-reservation keno, run by the Arizona Lottery, had to be scrapped after it appeared to run afoul of the existing tribal compacts, which prohibit the state from running new games that were not already allowed when the 2002 deals were approved.

New compacts provide opportunities for change as long as the tribes also see benefits. Renegotiated compacts would not require voter approval.

The bigger change would be in wagering on sports.

Karamargin would not say whether this would be limited to professional sports or whether there also would be opportunities to bet on college games, just as there are in Nevada.

There already is off-reservation sports gaming of a sort in Arizona.

That’s not just horse racing and placing bets at the tracks. There also are more than 50 off-track betting sites scattered throughout the state, mainly at bars, where Arizonans can now place bets not only on the ponies running in the state but on horse and dog races throughout the country.

Vince Francia, general manager of Turf Paradise, which runs most of those OTB sites, said he is counting on getting a piece of the sports wagering Ducey proposes.

Ducey, in his message to lawmakers, said his goal is having expanded gaming that is “limited and well-regulated.”

Francia said that’s where OTB fits in. “It’s already regulated by the state,” he said, adding that it’s also financially beneficial to the state.

“It gets the product out to the most number of people in a very efficient way,” he said.

There was a prior effort in 2019 to allow wagering on sports events.

The proposal by state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, would have allowed each tribe to operate multiple OTB facilities at bars through the use of remote devices or kiosks, with the state getting a share of the amount of money wagered there. He envisioned about 100 sites.

But that plan fell apart when Ducey said he wanted any such plan to be part of the renegotiation of tribal compacts and not a separate effort.

Any plan for expanded off-reservation gaming could generate opposition.

In 2018, when Ducey sought keno to fund teacher pay, he drew fire from Cathy Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a socially conservative organization that says it promotes family values.

“Keno is predatory gambling,” she said at the time. She said in other states keno tickets are sold in “family-type restaurants” and sports bars, making multiple-per-hour drawings particularly addictive.

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