Arizona Coyotes seek gaming law change to move to Arizona State hockey arena

PHOENIX – The Arizona Coyotes want a new state law legalizing sports betting changed to allow them to continue running their mobile sports gaming operation when they move from Glendale to the hockey arena at Arizona State University next season.

But the Arizona Indian Gaming Association and several Native American tribes oppose the last-minute measure approved by the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. They argue the 2021 law legalizing sports betting was part of a complex deal they brokered with Governor Doug Ducey that updated the Tribal Gaming Pact.

The Coyotes say the change is necessary because the ASU arena only holds 5,000 people, and the law that allowed professional sports teams to run retail sportsbooks and mobile gaming operations requires that facilities can accommodate at least 10,000 people.

The Coyotes plan to use the varsity arena for three years while the teams develop a new $1.7 billion project that includes restaurants, shops and apartments and a new hockey arena on a site in 40 acres in Tempe.

The Coyotes do not plan to open a retail operation at ASU, but instead continue to manage their mobile gaming operations, according to the Coyotes’ Andrew Diss, who testified for the proposal. He said there was a question as to whether a change in the law was needed to continue operating their online gambling operations, but said they had received conflicting answers.

“When you ask 10 different lawyers the same question, you get 10 different answers,” Diss said. “It doesn’t reassure us that we will be able to keep our online gaming license if we move to a facility of less than 10,000 people. That’s what it’s all about.”

A lawyer who represents the Arizona Indian Gaming Association said a law just passed last year shouldn’t be changed just because the Coyotes needed a new arena. He said the updated pact that waived the exclusive right of tribes to operate gambling in Arizona hinged on limiting when, where and how sports teams ran their operations.

“It was a compromise on the part of the tribes as well as the professional leagues and teams, and to go back and change that understanding, especially less than a year later, to something that is truly self-created…don’t shouldn’t land at this body to address,” Bradley Bledsoe Downes told the committee.

Downs was referring to the long-running dispute between the Coyotes and the city of Glendale that led to the city refusing to extend its lease on the Gila River Arena.

Republican Rep. Leo Biasiucci, who sponsored the late-breaking amendment approved Tuesday, said the Coyotes plan to spend $40 million to upgrade ASU’s new multi-purpose arena. ASU said when announcing the deal in February that the Coyotes would pay nearly $20 million upfront for the upgrades.

Senator Sonny Borrelli, a Republican from Lake Havasu City, said the tribal opposition was nothing more than a pointless turf war. He called the opposition “ridiculous” and said ASU would be the big winner.

“To see this, this opposition from the tribe, is really upsetting because it doesn’t negatively affect the tribes one iota. None. Zero,” Borrelli said. “It moves from place to place, and it’s temporary.”