The FanDuel Sportsbook opened at the Footprint Center on Sept. 9, 2021. Photo by James Franks | Cronkite News
Through the first six months of legalized sports gambling, Arizona’s state coffers have yet to cross the $10 million mark, while sportsbooks have made $225 million.
New February totals show sportsbooks made $24 million off $491 million in bets placed for the month, but the state brought in its lowest total yet for a full month at $670,000.
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The state’s general fund has seen just about $8.5 million in revenue from sports gambling between September 2021 and February 2022 — during the professional and college football seasons — an average of roughly $1.4 million per month. If the averages hold, the state would bring in $17 million over its first year of legal betting, though the average is likely to drop outside of the football seasons.
Compare that to sports books making $225 million since gambling launched last year, with licenses operated by the Suns, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and others. Arizona bettors have spent roughly $2.8 billion to date and won more than $2.5 billion.
When Gov. Doug Ducey signed a new tribal gaming compact and corresponding legislation for mobile gaming last year, state budget analysts predicted the state would bring in roughly $15 million annually. Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor in the Arizona House, state Rep. Jeff Weninger, said the state’s cut could be potentially as high as $100 million.
The most recent figures from the Arizona Department of Gaming shows the Legislature’s number crunchers were much closer to the target after six months.
The department this month released its report showing February’s wagers, which kicked off with one of the busiest gambling days of the year in the Super Bowl. But that also means football season — the most popular sport for gamblers — ended, setting the state for a decline in bets. How deep that drop will be is up for interpretation by each mobile betting source.
The February figures come on the heels of record-high wagers in January, which crossed $500 million; the state collected only $1.9 million from those wagers.
A spokesman for DraftKings told the Arizona Mirror they could not speak to specific drop-offs in bets during football’s off-season, but noted that as long as there are sports, bets will continue.
“When it comes to sports betting, NFL in particular and college football are certainly king. But we still have a bevy of sports to bet on,” spokesman Stephen Miraglia said, noting that basketball and hockey postseasons are underway, the baseball season has begun and there are major golf tournaments during the summer.
“It’s still a busy time,” he said. “(There is) no shortage of content.”
Promotional credits — usually in the form of free bets — offered by mobile sportsbooks is a point of contention for critics of the legislation, because mobile betting apps are able to write off those promotions out of what they would ordinarily owe to the state’s general fund.
For the first two years, they can write off up to 20% of their adjusted gross receipts, which shrinks to 15% in year three and 10% in years four and five. After that, write-offs are no longer allowed.
For Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo, sports betting is even more lucrative: He also owns the sports book his team has partnered with. Meruelo owns SaharaBets, which began taking bets in Arizona in January.
The Coyotes also are lobbying legislators for a bill that would allow Meruelo to bring his sportsbook license to the 5,000-seat venue at Arizona State University where the Coyotes will be playing until the team builds a new stadium.
Campaign finance reports show that Meruelo gave roughly $80,000 to the campaigns of the lawmakers supporting the legislation. The bill won approval in the state House of Representatives, but has been held up in the Senate for a month. The only legislative candidate not currently holding office Meruelo contributed money to is Matt Gress, Ducey’s chief budget officer.
Gaming attorney and sports betting legal expert Daniel Wallach said that while it’s common to see a dip in wagers after football season, it’s not a sign that the gambling industry is struggling in Arizona.
“This is not a sign that consumers are disinterested in sports betting,” he said, adding that March and April numbers will likely be on the uptick and that next February will probably be a boon for wagers in the state.
That’s because Arizona is the host of the 2023 Super Bowl and there is a lot of excitement for the game to be played here.
“Even though that’s still the same month, that’s going to be a completely different situation because the state is going to be consumed with the excitement over the Super Bowl, no matter who is playing … [it] will be the first one ever played with an in-stadium sports book,” Wallach told the Arizona Mirror.
Overall he said nobody should really worry what numbers look like at this point because “we’re still operating in the nascent period of the launch of sports wagering in Arizona.”
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