The Arizona sports betting scene could get a little bit bigger, as the state’s regulatory agency announced it will open up another round of licensing in mid-February.
The Arizona Department of Gaming made the announcement Tuesday, saying it would accept applications for one license affiliated with tribal gaming and no fewer than one attached to one of the state’s professional sports teams under the statutes put in place by the 2021 sports betting law.
“The application window for event wagering licenses will open on February 16, 2024, and will close on March 4, 2024 at 5 PM,” the ADG’s statement reads. “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.”
The new license window comes on the heels of three recent closure announcements in the Arizona betting apps marketplace from online operators with tribal partners — TwinSpires, Unibet and WynnBET.
TwinSpires was the most recent Arizona online sportsbook to shut down. The company announced in early 2022 its intention to close, but had continued to run online betting in Arizona in partnership with the Tonto Apache Tribe. But that ended Dec. 15. In the ADG’s most recent revenue report (October), TwinSpires had the lowest handle of the 17 operators still in operation at $77,099.
Arizona is able to offer 10 tribal licenses and 10 licenses through professional sports teams. Only eight of the 10 pro sports licenses were ever filled.
What Happens Next in Arizona?
While we don’t know who will apply for the available Arizona tribal sports betting license, we do know USL Championship soccer team Phoenix Rising Football Club will try to land one of the sports team licenses.
In an emailed statement to BetArizona.com, Bobby Dulle, who serves as the president of Phoenix Rising Football Club, said the franchise will again go after a sports betting license.
"Phoenix Rising FC intends to apply for one of the available event wagering licenses reserved for Arizona Sports Franchises by the Arizona Department of Gaming," Dulle said. "As the highest-level professional soccer franchise in Arizona, Rising believes it is well positioned to be awarded a license this year."
Rising, which won the club’s first USL Championship level title in 2023, was turned down for a license in the state’s first licensing window in August 2021. When the ADG took applications again in August 2023, the club said its betting partner didn’t have time to get its application together.
The ADG awarded Bet365 Sportsbook Arizona a license during the process last August in partnership with the Ak-Chin Indian Community. Bet365 has yet to launch in Arizona, but is expected to be live in the coming months.
The Ak-Chin’s original online partner Fubo Sportsbook closed in October 2022. The Ak-Chin operate Harrah’s Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino, which features a Caesars Sportsbook retail location. The Caesars Sportsbook Arizona betting app has its license through a partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Since the licensing window in August, three of the state’s original 10 tribal license holders have had their betting partners announce closures — the San Carlos Apache (WynnBET), Tonto Apache (TwinSpires) and Quechuan Tribe (Unibet).
A spokesperson for the San Carlos Apache Tribe declined to comment on their plans for online sports betting to BetArizona.com, while representatives from the Tonto Apache Tribe did not reply to multiple attempts for comment.
Although Unibet has announced it will close, it’s Arizona site is still operational. In December, Charles Montague, who serves as the CEO of Paradise Casino and Quechuan Casino Resort, said the tribe is prepared to replace Unibet.
“We're currently looking for another [online sports betting partner],” Montague told BetArizona.com. “We have to negotiate with other vendors that we had previously talked to. And we're just looking at replacing [Unibet]. I guess they're looking at leaving in the second quarter. So just moving on, it doesn't really affect our brick and mortar other than us having to find a new vendor that would do the sports wagering for us.”
Montague and other tribal gaming officials from the Quechuan Tribe did not return emails or phone calls from BetArizona.com this week.
What Industry Experts Expect
While we still aren’t sure what will happen with the remaining Arizona sports betting licenses, longtime sports betting industry experts like Brendan Bussmann of B Global Advisors expect there to be interest in the market.
“At this point, most of the major players are already in Arizona and there is limited opportunity to have the additional team licenses issued,” Bussmann said. “As I’ve said since the beginning, those should have gone to tribal nations for partnerships as opposed to leaving revenue on the table for the state and limit market entry.”
Bussmann believes the continued ascent of Arizona sports betting, which has taken in just under $13 billion in wagers since launching in 2021, does make any round of licensing appealing for niche operators looking to gain a foothold.
“I think you’ve hit a point where as (mergers and acquisitions) occur, you will likely see other participants enter into the market for those few brands that are not in market, but also see some of the DFS (daily fantasy sports) players start to look at this market as we have seen with Underdog in other markets,” Bussmann said.
Despite the shuffling in operators, Arizona sports betting has posted year-over-year improvements in total handle in seven of the first 10 months reported in 2023. This partly due to the AZ sportsbook promos those operators typically run.
With three of the state’s seven $600 million handles coming in 2023 (with November and December likely to join), there’s reason to believe operators are still interested, according to Daniel McIntosh, who serves as a teaching associate professor at Arizona State University.
“With the reported numbers from October showing roughly a 10% jump in handle for the first five months of the fiscal year compared to the year prior, there’s still appetite for wagering,” McIntosh said.