Our View: Clock ticking on tribes’ sports betting bid

May 20, 2018 GMT

Expecting legal sports gambling parlors to quickly pop up in Arizona? Don’t bet on it.

Though a Supreme Court ruling last week sets the stage for states to regulate sports betting, Arizona’s path to that end is complicated by the gaming compact it has with American Indian tribes in the state.

The compact, which provided some $100 million in revenue to the state government last year, gives tribes an exclusive right to operate Las Vegas-style games in the state. The tribes maintain sports betting falls under this broad definition.

The compact, though, limits the games to specific ones, thus requiring a re-negotiation of terms should the state accept the tribes’ argument that they should have the exclusive monopoly on sports betting.

Others feel that sports betting falls in the same category as, say off-track horse betting, which is allowed at non-tribal locations.

With the compact expiring in 2022, lawmakers may be tempted to kick this issue down the road and wait for a complete re-negotiation that generates more revenue for the state.

They shouldn’t wait. The state stands to make some money with legal sports betting but the reality is that sports betting won’t wait for the state to legalize it. From wagers between friends to online betting, Arizonans currently make a lot of bets without leaving the state.

It looks like the state’s strongest position would be to quickly introduce a sports betting law that allows non-tribal operators to create sports books. This would essentially force tribes to move fast to offer the state a large cut of the revenue in exchange for exclusivity.

The downside of the state acting on its own is that tribes have a strong sovereignty argument, namely that they can have gambling anyway without any costly revenue-sharing compacts with states.

Does the state want to gamble on the legal course that argument could take?

It should. Legal sports betting doesn’t create a new product. Legalization is really just a way for the state to grab a share of the money.

The Legislature needs to push forward quickly rather than waiting for prolonged negotiations that could cost the state millions of dollars in lost revenue.

— Today’s News-Herald