Tribal politics aside, Arizona a natural for legalized sports bettingBy John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsNovember 26, 2018 at 5:18 pmFLAGSTAFF — The home crowd loves its North Arizona University Lumberjacks, win or lose. The affection for the home team runs hot in small college towns and big-league cities from here to Miami.Citizens of every state like to imagine themselves as the ultimate sports fans. And in the wake of the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), states are beginning to cash in on the sports betting activity associated with athletic events great and small.So why hasn’t sports-crazy Arizona with its seriously rabid fans and plethora of college and professional teams, moved more quickly to legalize sports betting?Like California and other states with a strong presence of tribal gaming, the procedures and politics aren’t as simple as they might appear. Tribal compacts forged years ago grant a level of gambling exclusivity for native American casinos, and adding legalized sports betting would necessitate reopening those agreements.That has caused tribal leaders around the country to lose a lot of sleep. Many would like to move forward. During this year’s G2E 2018, officials from Indian Country made it clear they understood just how lucrative elaborate sports betting centers might be under the right conditions.But that hasn’t caused them to lose sight of just what’s at stake should negotiations not pan out.There’s also a concerted, if little advertised effort by those who’d like to see a sports gambling carve out off tribal lands and outside those compacts. Lobbying is already taking place at state legislatures, and Arizona finds itself with challenges others can related to.Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has made it clear he wants to enable the state’s off-track betting parlors to add sports betting to the mix of horse- and dog-racing offerings. That could prove a big winner, and a good argument can be made that at least some of the necessary infrastructure is in place.If you’ve ever been to an off-track facility there, it’s clear there’s no shortage of betting interest. When you see gamblers placing bets on second-tier quarter horses and getting excited by the outcome, you can only imagine the interest they’d have over Cardinals football games, Suns basketball games, and Diamondback baseball games — not to mention the games at Arizona State and the University of Arizona.Ducey in May warmly greeted the potential revenue generation that would accompany legalization. Like many states, especially those in the West, Arizona has several areas of deficiency, including public education and in providing for social services.“There’s a long, long list of funding needs in this state that I’m aware of,” he said. “I do think there’s a significant opportunity with gaming. But I do think we should have the public discourse and debate on where those dollars will be spent and where the highest priority is.”He also appeared mindful of the hurdles ahead.“Of course, we have the tribal gaming compact,” Ducey said. “And of course we want to respect that and make sure we’re properly communicating with the tribes. But there’s also other factors we want to take into account.”Because, while the prospects of legalized sports gambling are great in the Grand Canyon State, the revenues generated under the current Native American gaming compact are solid. Tribal casinos contributed nearly $27 million in the first three months of the 2019 budget year. That’s up 2 percent from the same quarter ending Sept. 30 last year, according to the Arizona Department of Gaming.The growth is steady. It was the seventh consecutive increase in receipts, according to the agency, which released its report Nov. 2. As in other states, most of the revenue collected from the casinos flows into public education. In Arizona, the rest is used to help fund emergency services, tourism and conservation.The tribes last budget year contributed in excess of $94 million to the state, and another $12 million to local entities. That would figure to jump considerably with the legalization of sports betting in a sports-crazed land.The challenge in 2019 will be in keeping the games on the field, and out of the political arena, for the benefit of all the players.Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.