Arizona Bill Could Revive Turf Paradise’s Bid for Online Betting License

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In an aerial view, the downtown skyline is seen during a heat wave on July 15, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP

A recently proposed sports betting bill in Arizona could pave the way for Turf Paradise, the Phoenix-based horse racing track, to finally achieve its goal of obtaining a license for sports betting apps.

Let’s explore the key elements of the bill and examine what implications it may hold for online sportsbooks.

Turf Paradise’s Bid

Rep. David Cook is sponsoring Arizona House Bill 2732. It would allow Turf Paradise to acquire a full event wagering license. This comes after the Arizona Department of Gaming rejected its application for a similar license over two years ago.

“They applied for a permit just like NASCAR, the PGA, the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA,” Cook told the Legal Sports Report. “They were denied a permit because they were not a franchise. I don’t understand that because we have horse tracks across this country. I think it was inappropriate for (the Arizona Department of Gaming) to deny the horse racing industry from having the same opportunity as the NBA or NFL,” he said.

The Arizona Department of Gaming ruled against Turf Paradise and USL franchise Phoenix Rising Football Club, back in August 2021.

At the time, the ADG said neither met the standards of what a professional sports team or sports facility entails. Consequently, the ADG chose not to allocate the final two licenses for non-tribal entities. Despite efforts to contest this decision through the court system, Turf Paradise was unsuccessful in overturning it.

Turf Paradise Has a Long History in Arizona

Turf Paradise is the only licensed horse betting operator in Arizona. It has been a vital part of the state’s horse racing scene for nearly seven decades.

Despite facing financial challenges and coming close to being sold to a real estate developer in September, the track’s management and the local horsemen’s association have reached an agreement to continue racing in 2024.

What Does HB 2732 Call For?

Cook’s bill would change the rules so that Turf Paradise can identify as a sports facility.

Specifically, it would change the statute that constitutes what a “sports facility” is. His bill includes the following language: “And one location that hosted racing meetings in 2023 in a county with a population of more than four million persons.”

That addition is explicitly for Turf Paradise. It’s in Maricopa County, which has a population of 4,430,871 according to the 2020 Census. Pima County, with a population of 1,042,393, is the next closest in size.

Another statute in HB-2732 is even more explicit in who the bill seeks to give a license to, reading: “An owner of an Arizona professional sports team or franchise, an operator of a sports facility in this state that hosts an annual tournament on the PGA tour, a promoter of a national association for stock car auto racing national touring race in this state or a horse racing permittee that is located in a county with a population of more than four million persons and that conducted racing meetings in 2023.”

Ironically, in-person betting is already taking place at Turf Paradise via sports betting kiosks that are on-site, and it’s been very successful.

From January to November 2023, Turf Paradise took in a total of $5.6 million in bets. During those 11 months, they made $321,000 in profit from these bets.

What’s Next for the Arizona Sports Betting Bill?

The application process for online AZ sports betting licenses reopened on February 16th. Interested parties will have until March 4 to submit their applications. At least two licenses will be up for grabs: one for Arizona tribes and another for Arizona sports franchises.

Another application process may be added later this year. We’ll continue to follow the developments.