Arizona House Bill Proposed to Ensure Turf Paradise Receives Mobile Sports Betting License

Arizona House Bill Would Guarantee Turf Paradise a Mobile Sports Betting License
Fact Checked by Young Ruth

A Republican legislator in the East Valley has introduced a bill that would grant Turf Paradise, a Phoenix horse racing track, the opportunity to secure an Arizona sports betting app license.

Rep. David Cook, sponsor of Arizona House Bill 2732, is advocating for the approval of a full event wagering license for the horse track located at the intersection of 19th Avenue and Bell Road, even though the Arizona Department of Gaming had rejected its application more than two years ago.

In August 2021, the ADG concluded that Turf Paradise and the USL franchise Phoenix Rising Football Club did not qualify as professional sports teams, leaving the last two licenses for non-tribal entities vacant. Turf Paradise tried to contest the decision in court but was unable to reverse the ruling.

Starting in January 2024, the ADG will be accepting applications for two professional sports licenses and an open tribal license. The application window will open on Friday and close on March 4th.

The ADG has set the application period for event wagering licenses to start on February 16, 2024, and close on March 4, 2024, at 5 p.m. In order to be considered for a license, all applicants must submit their completed applications within this timeframe. Each application will be thoroughly reviewed by the ADG in accordance with the State’s event wagering regulations and laws.

A representative from the ADG declined to comment on HB-2732 and its possible impact on the department’s upcoming sports betting licensing phase.

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What is the content of Arizona HB-2732?

Cook’s legislation is aimed at overturning the ADG’s decision regarding Turf Paradise by modifying a law to classify a “sports facility” as any venue that hosted racing events in 2023 within a county with a population of over four million residents.

The extra details mentioned pertain specifically to the Phoenix track, given that Maricopa County is Arizona’s largest county, home to over 1.1 million residents. As per the 2020 Census, Maricopa County boasts a population of 4,430,871, making it the most populous county in the state. The second largest county by population is Pima County, with 1,042,393 residents.

One of the provisions in HB-2732 specifies the qualifications for individuals who are eligible to obtain a license under the bill. This includes owners of professional sports teams or franchises in Arizona, operators of sports facilities that host annual PGA tour tournaments in the state, promoters of national stock car racing events in Arizona, and horse racing permittees in counties with populations over four million that conducted racing meetings in 2023.

When asked about the timing of his Arizona sports betting bill passing alongside the ADG’s plans to open another licensing window, fifth term Republican representative Cook told yengols.com that the goal of the legislation was to promote fairness within the state’s sports betting industry.

In an email, Cook mentioned that several years ago, a bill was passed that authorized the governor to distribute 10 professional sports betting licenses through an application procedure. Out of these licenses, the governor granted eight.

The denial of a franchise application for a horse racing track resulted in a state court ruling that they were not classified as a ‘franchise.’ Despite being the oldest sport in Arizona and already providing parimutuel betting on site and through racing signals from other tracks, a new bill seeks to formally recognize horse racing tracks as eligible for a franchise in the future. This would eliminate the requirement for them to reapply under current law.

There is uncertainty among industry experts, such as Brendan Bussmann, managing partner at B Global, regarding the motivation behind Rep. Cook and his colleagues currently discussing alterations to the language for sports betting licenses.

Bussmann noted that horse racing was included in the initial bill for sports betting, which received input from multiple stakeholders during the original approval process. However, it was not approved at that time. Bussmann is skeptical about the decision to revisit the issue, questioning the need to push for something that was previously unsuccessful.

Turf Paradise is prepared to increase wagering options.

Vincent Francia, the general manager of Phoenix’s horse racing staple, revealed to yengols.com that the track is ready to expand on the limited event wagering license it secured earlier this year in January 2022.

Limited event licenses only allow for retail sports betting, while full licenses allow for both retail and online betting. Turf Paradise partnered with Unibet Arizona for its retail sportsbook, but Unibet has announced plans to shut down its U.S. operations in May.

Francia stated that Turf Paradise and the horse racing industry have consistently asserted their status as a sports franchise. They view themselves as trailblazers in the Valley and insist on being acknowledged alongside major sports franchises such as basketball, hockey, baseball, and football.

We feel we deserve to be granted the same licenses as the franchises, as it is only fair. Furthermore, we are already active in the sports betting market in Phoenix, which has seen steady growth in the past year and is expected to continue to expand in the future.

Turf Paradise and its off-track betting partners were granted a limited license for retail sports betting, which required licensees to pay a $1,000 application fee, a $1,000 initial license fee, and a $5,000 annual renewal fee. The ADG has the authority to issue up to 10 of these limited licenses.

Arizona Sports Betting presents a lucrative opportunity.

Francia sees a bright future ahead for the race track, despite initial concerns raised in October when rumors emerged about Turf Paradise potentially shutting down and selling its 252-acre property to a California real estate firm. The track is actively seeking a buyer who will commit to keeping the facility up and running.

Francia is hopeful that Turf Paradise will eventually join the Arizona mobile sports betting market, which has generated impressive revenues of over $13.5 billion in handle and $639 million in gaming revenue since its launch in September 2022.

Francia noted that Arizona has a thriving sports betting community, with both male and female enthusiasts taking part. The recent Super Bowl serves as a prime example, with Taylor Swift potentially drawing in new fans of football and sports betting. While the market is still maturing in Arizona, it is increasingly becoming a prominent aspect of people’s lives, even for Francia’s own children in their 30s. Turf Paradise aims to tap into this burgeoning market in the state.

Turf Paradise could greatly increase its betting income by obtaining access, as shown by the total handle of $920,620.76 reported in the ADG’s November report for its limited event wagering license.

In November, TwinSpires reported the lowest total handle of $168,831, while Turf Paradise’s betting partner Unibet, in partnership with the Fort Yuma-Quechan Tribe, had an online handle of $983,242. FanDuel Arizona, on the other hand, led the operators with an impressive online handle of $249.3 million for the same month.

Francia notified yengols.com that the track is ready to begin operations once regulators have approved their partnership with an Arizona mobile wagering partner, without regard to the timeline.

Francia clarified that while the bill may be passed today, it will not be able to be put into effect right away because of the state processes that need to be completed. Despite this delay, approving the bill would still be a major milestone, and they are committed to following all necessary procedures to ensure it is implemented as swiftly as possible.

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Author

Peterson Christopher

For more than seven years, Peterson Christopher has been reporting on sports and sports betting in Arizona. He has worked for ArizonaSports.com, the Tucson Weekly, and the Green Valley News before becoming the lead writer at yengols.com.

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