Our View: Sure bet: Millions in legal wagering leaving Arizona

April 9, 2019

College basketball’s championship tournament built to its annual conclusion of March Madness, wrapping up Monday night.

The tournament generates a lot of excitement, a lot of glory for the winners and, by the way, an awful lot of money. The schools get money, the athletic conferences get money, television gets money.

Those who win big on bets get the most money, at least if estimates on betting are to be believed.

Because it runs for weeks and dozens of games, college basketball championship generates more betting than any other sports event. Some estimates put it at more than $8 billion, with almost half of that wagered at legal sportsbooks in Las Vegas and around the country.

Arizona isn’t one of those places. A bill sponsored by Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City would have allowed tribes to set up off-casino sports betting locations with the state receiving a share of take.

Unlike a handful of other states that rushed to set up sports betting after the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead, Arizona isn’t reaping any benefit from this year’s March Madness or any of the other thousands of games available for wagering at sports books.

Though the bill had some traction in the Legislature, splintered tribal opposition put the issue back as a negotiation item in the overall Arizona Tribal gaming compact, Borrelli said. If Arizona adopts the concept, it will certainly take longer than it would with a new law.

There are plenty of good discussion points about gaming and public policy. Does society want to essentially endorse gambling? That’s the overall one, and the answer is it apparently does since Arizona is tied into tribal casinos. Once that’s settled, it’s a stretch to try and separate sports betting.

The reality is that there is already a lot spent by Arizonans on sports bets. More than half of that $8 billion national amount comes from informal games such as office pools.

The money is already being wagered. The question is whether the state – and tribes – want some of that revenue. Odds are, they will. Some of the early adopter sports betting states are finding the revenues are less than expected. That’s no huge surprise but it’s not a negative either. Allowing an in-state market to meet whatever demand exists is better than essentially forcing Arizonans to take their money elsewhere.

If simply for convenience, never mind the money raised for state needs, the sports gaming measure deserves approval in Arizona. We hope the tribes find a workable way. Otherwise, the state should seek to disconnect the topic from the gaming compact and move ahead on its own.

— Today’s News-Herald