Arizona Department of Gaming Opens Licensing Window Again

Arizona Department of Gaming Opens Licensing Window Again
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

The next wave of expansion in Arizona sports betting is upon us. The Arizona Department of Gaming has announced that it will open the state’s licensing window in July, trying to get the market back to full strength ahead of football season.

With the state’s sports betting marketplace sitting at 16 operators out of an available 20 licenses, regulators from the ADG are tasked with adding between one and four operators to the state’s sports betting scene.

The state will seek to replace the outgoing Unibet Arizona Sportsbook, which will shut down for good later this year.

Start And End Dates For AZ Licensing

The ADG announced the latest expansion in sports betting licensure on Friday in a press release that laid out the next round for AZ sports betting apps. They provided the start and end dates for the window, plus the parties that qualify for licensure this go-round.

“The Arizona Department of Gaming (ADG) is pleased to announce that it will begin accepting applications for event wagering licenses in July. Pursuant to A.R.S. § 5-1304 and A.A.C. R19-4-105 and 106, ADG will accept applications for no less than one event wagering license reserved for Arizona Tribes and no less than one event wagering license reserved for Arizona Sports Franchises, as defined in A.R.S. § 5-1301(7). Prospective applicants are encouraged to review the provided materials on ADG’s website carefully to understand the application process and requirements,” the ADG’s statement read. 

“The application window for event wagering licenses will open on July 8, 2024, and will close on July 19, 2024, at 5 p.m. Applicants must submit their completed applications within this timeframe in order to be considered for a license. ADG will thoroughly evaluate all applications received based on the established criteria pursuant to the State’s event wagering rules and statutes.”

What Industry Insiders Are Saying

The Arizona wagering market has exceeded expectations since launching in September 2021, with more than $16.4 billion in handle, including a new record set in March 2024 ($759,807,633). But the good tidings have not parlayed into continuity as far as operators are concerned.

Since the start of last year, Arizona has seen operators like WynnBET and TwinSpires shut their virtual doors entirely. Now Unibet is slated to join those two in the coming months.

Conversely, the ADG has added two major national names, Bet365 Arizona Sportsbook and Fanatics Gaming, to the state’s repertoire of approved mobile sportsbooks. That gives the Grand Canyon State 16 mobile operators once Unibet ceases operations.

The lack of continuity in Arizona has caught the eyes of industry insiders like Brendan Bussmann, the managing partner of B Global. He sees the ADG having a tough task in finding applicants with staying power going forward.

“Here we are again to try and see who may apply for the open licenses that exist in Arizona,” Bussmann told BetArizona.com. “The easiest path forward is with a tribal partnership because I still am not sure how any of the sports licenses work with the teams under their current configuration.  The nature of the division has been problematic from the beginning.”

With bet365 and Fanatics Arizona Sportsbook now entrenched in the Grand Canyon State’s sports betting market, the choices for regulators in Arizona lean toward more niche brands like Betr and Circa. Neither returned requests for comment from BetArizona.com by press time.

Additionally, traditional DFS companies like Underdog Sports could also be in play. That company recently launched a sports betting brand in North Carolina. A company representative declined to say whether they’d apply for a license in Arizona.

Insiders such as Bussmann see tough sledding for whichever entrants get licensed this go-round, though there’s plenty of time for things to change in Arizona.

“All of the major players are already in the market so anyone that comes in at this point is coming in as an independent or a smaller brand looking to be a part of this sports betting market,” Bussmann said. “While the likelihood of the division of licenses will not change, opening up further licenses to tribes would provide further opportunities to these nations as opposed to letting licenses sit on the shelf."

For those that have been around the state’s business climate for years, such as Arizona State University teaching associate professor Daniel McIntosh, the latest round of licensing doesn’t change the tough economics that have forced niche wagering brands to shut down operations of late.

“We’ve seen WynnBET, TwinSpires and Unibet (along with Fubo) exit and no real change at the top with FanDuel and DraftKings having around 2/3 of the market followed by traditional brick and mortar MGM and Caesars,” McIntosh said. “There was an expectation that Phoenix Rising FC would be joining their fellow local sports teams as having an official partner the last cycle and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them submit a bid during this window especially coming off a 2023 USL Championship that might draw additional fan and market interest.”

To McIntosh, the state’s two-plus years of operations means that the initial boon from tax-exempt free bets has largely worn off. That means operators must get creative to bolster their market shares across the board.

That creativity means that niche brands, such as many of the companies that are likely to apply for an Arizona mobile sports betting license next month, have little room to chase down the big dogs in Arizona sports betting. That could complicate plans in the 48th state.

"Hold percentages have been stable at about 8% while the free bet percentages as a whole have been at about 3% since January 2022. ESPN Bet and Bet365 had free bet rates of 6%, double the average as they looked to drive market share, which impaired their hold rates which were closer to 6%. Their markets shares are lagging at about 4% and 3% respectively,” McIntosh said.

“In other words, we continue to see that free bets and signups aren’t long term profit drivers and don’t appear to increase the stickiness of the average bettor.”

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Who Might Apply in Arizona?

Of the three professional sports franchises left in Arizona without licensure (Phoenix Rising Football Club of the USL, the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and the Tucson Sugar Skulls of the IFL), only the former commented about plans for wagering going forward.

In an emailed statement to BetArizona.com, PRFC President Bobby Dulle the club is still pursuing a mobile sports betting license. The club has been spurned on multiple occasions, dating to the first round of sports betting licensing in 2021.

“Phoenix Rising FC remains very interested in providing sports betting to our fan base, which is underserved by the existing event wagering infrastructure in Arizona,” Dulle said. “We have been continuing our search for the right sports betting operations partner and hope we are able to submit an application in July.”

The other possible party this time around is Phoenix horse racing track Turf Paradise. The track is vetting sports betting candidates and keeping its options open, according to longstanding track general manager Vincent Francia.

Jerry Simms, the chairman of the track itself 2000, told BetArizona.com that the Phoenix horse racing stalwart is still looking for a new wagering partner to replace Unibet, the operator that previously fulfilled the facility’s limited wagering license.

As to whether Turf Paradise expects to go after a full wagering license this summer, Simms said that the track is hamstrung by current statutes that limit who can and can’t qualify as a “professional sports franchise” under the statutes the state put forth in 2021. But he said the track is happy to have whatever form of wagering it can in 2024 and beyond.

“I would like to find a partner under the law, which I haven’t been able to find just yet, but I would like to,” Simms told BetArizona.com. “We have to go with a limited sports betting license because of the way the law was written.”

Additionally, he said Turf Paradise officials have not heard anything from the ADG or any other state agency about loosening up regulations so that the longtime track can offer mobile and retail wagering outside of racing season going forward. He said the track has signed a three-year extension with the state’s horsemen association, which should allow the longstanding horse racing facility to continue operations in the near term without concern.

“We just signed a new contract with the horsemen for three years, which is good for the horsemen and it’s good for the staff,” Simms said.

Arizona sports betting statutes say that 10 Arizona tribes and 10 Arizona professional sports teams are entitled to wagering licensure, with eight of the 10 licenses currently allocated to each party. Online AZ apps can offer Arizona sports betting promotions for new customers.

Whether the ADG will pull the trigger on filling the final four slots this time around remains to be seen. Still, one of the nation’s largest sports betting markets is about to open the door for interested operators.

USA Today photo by Steven Bisig

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Author

Christopher Boan is the lead writer at BetArizona.com after covering sports and sports betting in Arizona for more than seven years, including stops at ArizonaSports.com, the Tucson Weekly and the Green Valley News.

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