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Gov. Ducey signs Arizona gambling expansion, with legal sports betting

A view of the three-level Circa Sportsbook is seen during the grand opening of Circa Resort & Casino on October 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Circa Resort & Casino)

PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey signed an amended tribal gaming compact and associated legislation Thursday to authorize a wide-ranging expansion of legal gambling, including sports betting, in Arizona.

“This represents the most significant changes in almost two decades, a truly historic event,” Ducey said during a signing ceremony at Phoenix’s Heard Museum, a venue that showcases American Indian art.

A host of tribal leaders and lawmakers from both parties were among the hundreds on hand for the signing.

“We argued before we agreed. And we fought before we found our middle ground,” said Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community. “But here we are today, celebrating the most unique unicorn in political life: a genuine win for us all.”

The package, which permits betting on professional and college competitions at tribal casinos and sites owned by major pro sports teams, took more than five years to negotiate, Ducey said.

It also opens the door to fantasy sports gambling operations and new Keno games at horse race tracks and fraternal organizations.

Top-level pro sports teams such as the Arizona Coyotes, Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns will be able to run betting operations at their venues, at a nearby retail location and online.

Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall welcomed the arrival of betting on games and praised lawmakers for how they worked with the tribes to negotiate the changes.

“Having the teams or the facilities be the licensees working with operators so that each of us, each of the sports, are protecting the integrity of our sports and of our data, it makes a great deal of sense,” Hall told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Thursday morning, before the signing.

Hall said the opportunity to bet will increase fan engagement and interaction at games, and it could help with attendance.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, but most importantly the engagement and I would also say the tax revenue. … We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and the general fund,” he said.

The legislation, House Bill 2772, was sponsored by Sen. T.J. Shope and Rep. Jeff Weninger and passed with bipartisan support in both Republican-controlled chambers, 48-12 in the House and 23-6 in the Senate.

As part of the package, 10 licenses will be awarded to sports organizations, which could include professional golf and NASCAR.

Arizona tribes will also get 10 licenses and could run sportsbooks at two dozen tribal casinos.

Those private licenses are expected to bring in at least $100 million in new revenue for the state’s general fund. The increase in tribal gaming will bring some increase to a special fund that distributes cash from a 1% to 8% maximum levy on tribal gaming revenues.

Just after the signing, the Suns announced a partnership with FanDuel to open a luxury sportsbook at Phoenix Suns Arena by the start of the 2021-22 NBA season.

On Wednesday, the PGA TOUR and DraftKings revealed plans to operate retail and mobile betting services in Arizona. They also announced their intention to open a year-round sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale.

The 20-year gaming compact extension allows tribal casinos to greatly expand their gambling operations, adding games like Baccarat and craps to existing offerings of slot machines, blackjack and poker.

The updated deal will allow as many as four new casinos in the Phoenix area, although only two are likely to be built anytime soon, according to the compact documents.

They will be on Tohono O’Odham Nation land in the far western reaches of the metro area and on Gila River Indian Community holdings in the southeastern Valley, the documents said.

At least one new casino could be built in the Tucson area, as well. There are currently seven tribal casinos in metro Phoenix and 24 across the state.

Tribes will also be given rights to operate nearly 6,300 new slot machines, on top of more than 20,500 already allowed, plus a boost every two years after the new deals are formally approved by the federal government, the documents said.

That provides plenty of growing room for tribal casinos, which are only using about 13,500 machines now, according to the state Department of Gaming. The same is true of card and gaming tables, with 3,600 allowed now, only about 430 in use and more available under the new deal.

CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story had the incorrect number of slot machines currently allowed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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