By Christopher Boan | | 7 mins
Q&A With GMA Partner Brendan Bussmann on Arizona Sports Betting
It has been more than a month since Arizona sports betting kicked off, and the state has not looked back.
The Grand Canyon State has already punched above its weight class, with geotracking company GeoComply listing Arizona fourth out of 18 states and the District of Columbia in NFL gambling transactions during September with 36.9 million.
While we won’t know the full handle for the state’s sports betting sites during the month of September until early November, we know Arizona’s sportsbooks and sports betting apps have performed well to date.
Bookies.com chatted with Brendan Bussmann, who has served as a partner and director of government affairs for gaming and hospitality consulting firm Global Market Advisors since 2015, about Arizona’s sports betting marketplace and what the future entails for the 48th State, betting wise.
Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
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Bookies.com: How has the opening month-plus in Arizona gone in your opinion?
Brendan Bussmann: Overall, it's a positive start, based on what we've seen. Obviously, there's a lot that still needs to happen, especially when it comes to what will happen with the brick-and-mortar facilities that are coming into play, and that obviously will continue to be developed. But I think what we saw out of the chute, and what we continue to see, is that Arizona looks to be a strong sports betting market.
Bookies: What’s the best comparison, state-wise, for the Arizona sports betting market?
Bussmann: I think one of the things — as it was heading to launch — and obviously each market’s different as it goes through the regulatory structure; but prior to that, I sort of put (Arizona’s sports betting market) in line with a Colorado-type atmosphere.
Where you have strong affiliation for local teams, you've got a good population base that has an interest in sports. And so, I thought, as a similar state out in the west to Colorado, obviously, you have to see if that comes to fruition. But obviously, with mobile almost all statewide, it helps with that effort.
Bookies: The ADG has handed out 18 of 20 licenses so far. What’s your take on when the state will give out the remaining two?
Bussmann: It's going to be difficult to get to that full 20 based off the two being on the sports side of the bucket, if you want to call it that. Because there's very few organizations that are going to meet the criteria that was established as part of the law. One of the things that I've always said, from the beginning, and I think we saw this when applications were submitted, is the tribes shouldn't be limited in the number of licenses they were statewide, in the 10.
They were the ones that renegotiated their compact. They're the ones that can do that.
And I always thought that was a flaw in the legislation. Because you left tribes hanging that had an interest to do mobile to be able to do that.
And I think the only way you get there is if you have some sort of change legislatively heading into 2022, which I don't know if there's an appetite to do or not.
Bookies: One outlier that stands out in Arizona is the Coyotes’ license situation. Who are some of the operators you see the team partnering with?
Bussmann: I think the Coyotes continue to be a little bit of a mystery. I would say rumor has it they wanted to sort of figure it out on their own and be able to go about it with more of an internal solution.
And obviously, some of the questions they had during the regulatory process – not only with the Coyotes, as well as their minor league sister organization down in Tucson (the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL).
... So, it'll be good to see those guys up and going when they do because it'll add more to the market. It's out there, but I think we have yet to see how that's going to shake out for them.
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Bussmann: Looking at NASCAR – and I will fully admit I'm a big NASCAR fan, I have been for about 20 years now – I think that it is on par with any of the other major leagues.
So, while it may only in jurisdictions host one to two events a year, it is a viable professional sport. That honestly is a good partner for a sports betting operator.
And with in-race wagering as a different element to the mix, it's one that’s now different than the race I saw yesterday, to the race I'll watch this next Sunday. I enjoy it and it makes it more entertaining.
Bookies: What has Arizona done, sports betting wise, that other states should emulate and, vice versa, what things should others avoid?
Bussmann: I think one of the things that gives me a little bit of heartburn over Arizona is the limited licenses, especially when it came to the tribes. As I previously mentioned, those are the primary holders of gaming within a state, and as you look at other states, whether they be a Minnesota and Oklahoma or Wisconsin should something change, that those are where they should sit first and foremost in those states where tribal gaming sits first.
I think the other thing with Arizona, that I think people gleaned off was, getting through the regulatory hiccups that were previously led by the legislative piece, making sure that the governor, the legislature, and the tribes are all on the same page.
And any other stakeholders, as we saw in this case, in the ability for teams to have licenses. I think that's a critical learning step that we learned at Arizona that needs to occur.
So back to these other states, whether they be the ones I mentioned, or even in California, or let's see what happens in Texas, with the current Supreme Court lawsuit that came out on the tribe in El Paso today. Getting everybody on the same page is key to making that happen. And that not only includes the external stakeholders, but also the executive and legislative branches.
Bookies: There is an ongoing legal challenge to the compact. What’s your take on the suit’s chances and how could it impact the future of sports betting in Arizona?
Bussmann: I listened to the (Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe vs. the State of Arizona) hearing that was held over Labor Day weekend – which, let me just say, if I can digress for two seconds, kudos to that judge and his shop for hosting that hearing as quickly as he did to see about putting the emergency injunction in.
I think there's obviously some issues that still need to be resolved on that. We'll see how the courts roll off it. Obviously, it's hard to close Pandora's Box once it's already open. So, I think that we will continue to see sports betting happen. It's just a matter of how and when.
Bookies: What’s been the biggest surprise about the Arizona market so far in your opinion?
Bussmann: Honestly, one of the biggest surprises for me was that two of the top tribes when it came to revenue in the state, one being Gila River Indian Community, and the other one being Salt River/Talking Stick, didn't seek a mobile license. That was the biggest surprise to me.
Bookies: The ADG won’t release the opening month data until November, but what’s your guess as to the market’s handle/revenue in September?
Bussmann: I know that we've seen some initial stats that I'll say, you know, off what the GeoComply folks shot out right after the first weekend of the NFL. I don't want to necessarily put myself on a number just because I think it’s yet to be determined how the weeks after that check out, but I expect a strong number and probably one that will also set some records along the way.