PointsBet, Cliff Castle Raise Questions In Arizona Sports Betting Process

Posted on August 31, 2021
Arizona sports betting
Posted By on August 31, 2021

Without a license, the Yavapai-Apache Nation and PointsBet will work to find new ways into Arizona sports betting.

The partners were not among the 18 licenses awarded by the Arizona Department of Gaming last week.

Arizona sports betting launches Sept. 9 but it appears the state’s bettors will be without PointsBet, a fairly large name in the US sports betting landscape.

“Whilst disappointed Cliff Castle was not awarded a license, PointsBet Continues to assess market access opportunities in Arizona,” PointsBet US CEO Johnny Aitken said on a conference call Monday night.

There are two lawsuits that could stop sports betting in AZ from launching on the target date. Daily fantasy sports in Arizona launched Saturday, the same day bettors could begin registering for accounts.

Sports betting license issued, taken back?

A release from the tribe’s Cliff Castle Casino Hotel said the ADG awarded the tribe a license on Aug. 23. The tribe did not publicly announce the license at the time.

On Aug. 25, the ADG reportedly told the tribe the license was an “administrative error.” According to the release, on Aug. 27, the ADG told the tribe it did not receive a license without further explanation.

“During the licensing process, we had expectations that the Arizona Department of Gaming would be transparent in how the licenses were awarded,” Cliff Castle Casino Hotel General Manager Aaron Moss said in a statement. “The fact that we were issued a license and then told that we did not get a license with no explanation has raised more questions than answers about the license allocation process.”

Accidental issuance?

According to a statement by the ADG, on Aug. 23, an “administrative error led to the false issuance of a Tribal Event Wagering Operator License to Cliff Castle Casino Hotel entirely outside of the license allocation process used to distribute the available licenses.” Once the ADG learned of the mistake, the statement said the license was immediately retracted.

The ADG said it communicated with Cliff Castle Casino Hotel to explain:

  • An employee with no knowledge of the allocation process issued the license.
  • The ADG had made no decisions at the time.
  • License allocations would be completed by the Aug. 27 deadline.

The statement also said the ADG followed up twice with written statements addressing those points.

Next step for Yavapai-Apache Nation?

With all 10 tribal licenses accounted for, the Yavapai-Apache Nation is in a bind. There were 10 licenses available to the 22 tribes in the state, 16 of which applied for a license.

A next step could include legal action similar to the two pending lawsuits.

“We are exploring all our options and no decision has been made on our next step,” a Cliff Castle Casino Hotel spokesperson wrote in an email to LSR.

The Yavapai-Prescott Tribe and Turf Paradise race track filed injunctions to stop the launch of AZ sports betting, both with emergency hearings scheduled Friday.

PointsBet still wants AZ sports betting access

PointsBet still wants a piece of Arizona, a market ripe with sports betting potential executives were still excited about on Monday’s conference call.

On the call, PointsBet Group Managing Director and CEO Sam Swanell said:

“Fair to say it was a bit of a surprise, but we then look for other opportunities. So look, I’m not going to sit here and say — if the market goes forward and is operating and bets are being taken in early to mid-September as has been sort of planned, well, that might not be possible for PointsBet anymore but we’ll consider — we’ll keep looking for opportunities.

“But again, it has to be under the right terms, we’re not going to commit to something that financially is irresponsible. We had the right deal with Cliff Castle and we believe we have the right partner. We’ll now have a look around and see how that all plays out.”

How could PointsBet move forward?

Should the Yavapai-Apache Tribe secure a license, that partnership could remain intact. PointsBet could also pursue a different market partner.

“If Cliff Castle is unsuccessful in obtaining a license, yes, we are free to pursue other opportunities,” Swanell said on the call. “Obviously, leading up to choosing to go with Cliff Castle, we engage with a number of parties. So we do have various relationships in the state and various parties that we’ve spoken to on the journey.”

Three licensees are without announced partners:

  • Navajo Nation
  • NHL‘s Arizona Coyotes
  • Tohono O’odham Nation

There are also two remaining licenses for professional sports organizations in the state.

Arizona sports betting licenses awarded

The ADG handed out 18 of the 20 available licenses last week.

Eight licenses went to sports organizations in the state:

Ten licenses went to tribes:

  • Navajo Nation
  • Tohono O’odham Nation
  • Ak-Chin Indian Community, partnered with Fubo Gaming
  • Ft.McDowell Yavapai Nation, partnered with BetFred
  • Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, partnered with SuperBook
  • Hualapai Tribe, partnered with Golden Nugget
  • Quechan Tribe, partnered with Unibet
  • San Carlos Apache Tribe, partnered with WynnBET
  • San Juan Southern Palute Tribe, partnered with Betway
  • Tonto Apache Tribe, partnered with TwinSpires

MaximBet and BlueBet did not receive market access, as their tribal partners did not receive licenses.

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Pat Evans

Pat Evans is a Las Vegas-based reporter covering sports business. Evans previously worked at Front Office Sports and the Grand Rapids Business Journal. He has authored two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer.

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