By Jill R. Dorson | September 9, 2021
Sports Handle Managing Editor
At 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning, the state of Arizona reached the end of a sprint that started in April.
When DraftKings, FanDuel and WynnBET went live with digital sports betting, the moment marked the culmination of nearly daily negotiations, meetings and controversy for the Arizona Department of Gaming, which was tasked with implementing the state’s new law.
That law did something that no other sports betting law in the United States has done — capped the number of available operator licenses at a number that would not include all existing casinos.
In every other U.S. legal sports betting jurisdiction, if a casino is licensed, it can apply for a sports wagering license. But Arizona lawmakers, saying they were shooting for “parity” between the state’s Native American gaming tribes and commercial interests, allowed for 20 licenses — 10 each for the tribes and professional sports teams/franchises.
That created a situation in which at least six tribes were denied licenses and has resulted in two lawsuits and plenty of angst.
The day before the ADG awarded 18 of 20 possible event wagering licenses, two lawsuits seeking injunctions were filed.
Indian Country appears to have hit another roadblock: No tribal retail casinos opened on September 9, while FanDuel unveiled its cutting-edge new sportsbook at Footprint Center and Caesars opened for wagering at Chase Field in temporary locations around the ballpark. The ADG confirmed that tribes could not launch until the appendices to their new compacts were signed.
Until that is done, the tribes’ operators, suppliers or vendors cannot ship needed equipment into the state.
One tribe, the Yavapai-Prescott, and one sports venue, Turf Paradise, sued both Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Gaming, claiming they were unfairly left out of the process or denied a license. Neither lawsuit has legs — at least not at the moment — after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge declined to delay the September 9 sports betting launch in the Yavapai-Prescott case, and the court declined to hear the Turf Paradise case.
But in making his ruling, Judge James Smith did suggest that the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe might further explore one part of its lawsuit.
Smith did not completely reject the idea that tribes are at a disadvantage with regard to the ability to get a license. The tribe argued that everyone in Indian Country had about a 50% chance of getting a license — there are 20-plus gaming tribes in the state — while commercial entities had a nearly 100% chance. The ADG got 16 applications from tribes and 10 from commercial entities. It awarded 10 licenses to tribes and eight to teams/franchises.
Smith suggested that the argument could have merit going forward, but that in its current form did not meet the requirements for him to issue an injunction.
Another surprise made the news just days after the issuance of licenses when the Yavapai-Apache Nation, which owns and operates the Cliff Castle Casino, made it known that the ADG had issued it a license only to rescind it. The only explanation was an “administrative error,” leaving the tribe, and its partner PointsBet, full of questions.
The tribe would seem to have little recourse as the law allows for 10 tribal licenses, all of which have been allocated. PointsBet, on the other hand, would appear to be free to partner with a currently approved, but unpartnered tribe or try to find a commercial partner that fits the definition of a professional sports team/franchise. That entity could then apply for one of the two remaining commercial licenses — though the ADG said it has no clear plan for when or if it will allocate that licenses — and PointsBet would be the operator.
Against that backdrop of intrigue, Arizonans now have more than half a dozen options for legal wagering with more to come. In addition to DraftKings, FanDuel, and WynnBET, BetMGM, Caesars, Penn National Gaming’s Barstool Sportsbook and WynnBet launched digital platforms by 9 a.m. September 9.
According to the ADG, Kindred’s Unibet, which is partnered with the Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe, was also approved for launch but had not done so by press time.
Here’s a look at the platforms that are currently live.
PNG, which is partnered with Phoenix Raceway, launched its Barstool Sportsbook September 9. Plans for the book at the raceway are still in development, and the company did not release a go-live date for in-person wagering, but when the sportsbook opens, it will be among the first at a NASCAR track anywhere in the U.S.
Offers: $1,000 new player offer (make a deposit and get the first wager risk free up to $1,000), the Dave & Dan’s $1.5 million Overs Tournament, and two specials on the Bears — a multiplier odds boost on a $5 bet to win $50 if the Bears cover the spread. Barstool is also offering Arizona bettors $400 worth of free bets when a player deposits $100 or more using the code “Arizona.”
Partnered with both the NFL Cardinals and Gila River Casinos, BetMGM launched its digital platform September 9 through the Cardinals’ license. The company is planning a retail sportsbook at State Farm Stadium in time for the 2022 NFL season and says sportsbooks at Gila Rivers’ Wild Horse Pass, Lone Butte and Vee Quiva casinos will open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks by the end of 2021.
Offers: BetMGM is offering myriad specials and promotions, including $20 added to every mobile account from which a wager is made during Week 1, $1,000 risk free for college football, and several college football team-specific wagers. Players will also be able to build a parlay in a single college football game. The company is offering several free-to-play games.
One of only two operators to go live with retail wagering, Caesars launched both its digital platform and temporary wagering locations at Chase Field on September 9. The new retail location, which will be in what is now the Game 7 Grill, will be 20,000 square feet and two stories, and it is scheduled to open in early 2022. Until then, patrons can wager at ticket windows 21-25 and at five kiosks on the north side of the plaza in front of the new sportsbook site.
DraftKings is the first operator to leverage a partnership with the PGA. The company has plans for a retail sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale, and along with FanDuel and WynnBET launched its digital platform at 12:01 a.m. September 9.
Offers: DraftKings is offering those in Arizona a $150 launch bonus with no deposit.
FanDuel was the first to gain market access in Arizona and, as such, had about a year to design and build out its physical sportsbook at Footprint Center. The net result is that FanDuel was the only operator to open a permanent retail location September 9. The company launched its digital platform at 12:01 a.m. and opened the book at Footprint Center at 9 a.m. For the time being, FanDuel’s state-of-the-art space in the Suns’ home arena is the only place Arizona bettors can get a full sportsbook experience — food, drink, a wraparound LED video wall, teller windows and kiosks.
Offers: FanDuel is offering a $1,000 risk-free first bet, among other specials.
Partnered with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, which owns and operates the Apache Gold Casino Resort, WynnBET launched its digital platform at 12:01 a.m. The company is building out a sportsbook at the casino, which is located in the high desert, about two hours east of Phoenix.
Offers: WynnBET is offering a $1,000 risk-free bet to new Arizona customers. If you win your first bet, you keep the money, and if you lose, WynnBET will issue a $1,000 credit to your account. In addition, new customers will be entered into a sweepstakes to win a trip to Allegiant Field in Las Vegas. The winner plus seven friends will get to sit in the Wynn Field Club Experience and will also get four hotel rooms, a $2,000 credit at the hotel, and roundtrip airfare.