Arizona Sports Betting Bill Would Give Turf Paradise Second Chance At Online License

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Arizona sports betting

An Arizona bill would give Phoenix-based race track Turf Paradise the ability to apply for an online sports betting license once again.

Rep. David Cook filed HB 2732, which amends current language to make Turf Paradise explicitly eligible to apply for an online AZ sports betting license should they choose. Turf Paradise was denied an online Arizona sports betting license when it initially applied in 2021.

“They applied for a permit just like NASCAR, the PGA, the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA,” Cook said. “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.”

Initial try for Arizona sports betting license

The Arizona Department of Gaming denied the 2021 application, saying the track did not own an “Arizona professional sports franchise.”

Cook told LSR that Turf Paradise, which has in-person AZ sports betting via kiosks, met all the qualifications in 2021. The amendment makes sure horse racing is included in the definition.

“All I’m saying is they’d have the opportunity to apply,” Cook said. “Let’s make sure that they qualify. If they make the decision (to apply,) then they are on the same playing field.”

Application process to open again

On February 16, the application process will open again. Applicants have until March 4 to apply for one of at least two online AZ sports betting licenses.

One license is reserved for Arizona tribes, and at least one is available for Arizona sports franchises.

With WynnBet and Unibet expected to draw down their operations this year, another application process is likely at a later date.

Sports betting license a lifeline for Arizona racing?

When the original application was denied in 2021, the racetrack said the decision threatened “the very existence of the horse racing industry in Arizona.”

Turf Paradise and Arizona Downs faced financial challenges in the following years.

Turf Paradise was set to be sold to a real estate developer last spring. That deal fell through in September when the developer could not secure authorization to bring historical horse racing machines to the state.

Closing more than just the track

Without a buyer, track owner Jerry Simms planned to let an operating contract with local horsemen expire, shutter the track, and retire.

Closing Turf Paradise would have effectively shut down more than three dozen off-track betting locations in the state as well.

Agreement to race in 2024

Turf Paradise and the horsemen’s association ultimately agreed to race in 2024.

“I decided to postpone my retirement because of the many stakeholders here in Arizona that want racing to continue,” Simms said in December.

Turf Paradise is the only licensed horse betting operator in the state. Arizona Downs did not race in 2023 because of financial trouble.

In-person AZ sports betting at Turf Paradise

Turf Paradise does have sports betting kiosks on-site at the track. It is the most popular AZ sports betting operator for kiosk wagering.

Between January and November 2023, Turf Paradise collected $5.6 million in betting handle. It cleared $321,000 in revenue during those 11 months.