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Arizona moves closer to goal of sports betting by start of NFL season

(AP Photo/John Locher)

PHOENIX – Sports betting appears to be on track to begin in Arizona by the start of the NFL season after federal authorities approved an updated tribal gaming compact with the state on Monday.

The U.S. Department of the Interior approved the compact sooner than expected, according to state Rep. Jeff Weninger, who sponsored the bill that, along with the tribal deal, authorized a wide-ranging expansion of legal gambling in Arizona.

“This means that our aspirational goal of having sports betting live by the start of the NFL season is even more realistic now,” the Chandler Republican tweeted.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed the new compact and associated legislation on April 15. In addition to legalizing sports betting, the deal allows the state’s Native American tribes to expand their casino gambling offerings and offer sports and fantasy betting.

Weninger said the new casino games could be up and running soon. But sports betting will take longer because the Arizona Department of Gaming has to finish writing rules, process applications and run background checks first.

“But we are confident by the end of August or early September they can be live,” he said.

The NFL kicks off the 2021 season on Sept. 9 with a Thursday night game between the Dallas Cowboys and defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Outside of the reservation casinos, major professional sports groups will be able to offer wagering on sporting events. And online fantasy sports operations like DraftKings can piggyback on the licenses.

Two Arizona teams have announced gambling partnerships so far, the Arizona Diamondbacks with Caesars Entertainment and the Phoenix Suns with FanDuel. Additionally, the PGA Tour and DraftKings have plans to open a sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale.

Monday’s approval by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs was the last cog needed for the gambling options to be fully legal in the state. Pro teams will need to get state-issued licenses and set up operations.

The tribes fiercely protected their exclusive right to most gambling in Arizona under the gaming compact approved by the state’s voters in 2002 and will continue to get that protection under the new deal.

In addition to the new sports and online betting, the tribes can now greatly expand their exclusive gambling offerings, adding games such as Baccarat and craps and increasing the number of slot machines while maintaining existing offerings of blackjack and poker.

Ducey hailed the milestone, which came after five years of negotiations with tribes.

“Gaming creates thousands of jobs for Arizonans, it generates tax revenue that benefits key areas of our communities, and it draws visitors to our state,” Ducey said in a statement Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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