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Arizona Coyotes lose chance at new arena site. Does this affect wagering licence?

| By Jill R. Dorson | Reading Time: 2 minutes
The Arizona Coyotes – currently an NHL team in name only – announced late on Friday that the state cancelled a land auction on property targeted for a new arena. Without players or a place to play, can the Coyotes keep their event wagering licence?
arizona desert coyotes betting license

There does not currently appear to be a clear answer to that question. The Coyotes are among eight professional sports franchises that are licensed to offer legal digital event wagering in Arizona.

Owner Alex Meruelo in April sold the players and game operations to a Utah-based group. He retains the rights to the name, team IP, records and the AHL (American Hockey League) Roadrunners affiliate franchise. At that time, the NHL classified the Coyotes as an “inactive” team.

That designation does not appear to have changed. But the Coyotes’ plans to acquire new land on which to build a new arena have been stymied.

“Today, after a year of planning and meeting every obligation required under Arizona law, the Arizona State Land Department unilaterally cancelled the auction that was scheduled to occur on 27 June for the site that has been identified as the future home of the Arizona Coyotes,” the team wrote in a statement on Friday (21 June). “This unprecedented action by the state of Arizona seriously jeopardises the future of NHL hockey returning to the desert.”

Does no “team” = no licence?

Without a team or a potential site to play, it would seem that the Coyotes would have to give up their licence. The team is currently partnered with SaharaBets to offer digital sports betting.

“Regarding the Coyotes’ licence in Arizona, the Arizona Department of Gaming (ADG) sent the Coyotes correspondence regarding the status of licensure in Arizona,” the Arizona Department of Gaming told iGaming Business via email.

“ADG and the Coyotes are undergoing the appropriate administrative processes regarding action on this licence. ADG has no comment concerning the NHL’s recognition of the Coyotes and has not been contacted by the NHL.”

Should the Coyotes have to give up the licence, that would leave three unused professional sports franchise licences. Under Arizona’s law, digital operators are required to partner with pro franchises or tribal casinos. Ten licences are allotted to pro franchises and 10 to tribes.

Since online event wagering went live in Arizona in September 2021, there have been leftover pro franchise licences. Under state law, the only pro franchises eligible for licences are those playing “at the highest level” of their sport. Muerlo still owns the AHL Roadrunners. But the United Soccer League’s (USL) Phoenix Rising applied and were denied a licence. So it seems unlikely that Roadrunners would qualify.

The USL is the highest level of soccer being played in Arizona, but it is not Major League Soccer and so far has not qualified. If the AHL is the highest level of hockey in Arizona, it would follow that it also would not qualify.

In general, the ADG interprets “highest level” as a top-tier professional sports franchise, not a “farm” or lower-level team.

New licensing window to open in July

ADG will open a new event wagering application window on 8 July, during which at least one tribal and one pro licence could be issued. One tribal licence came available when the Quechan tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation’s partner, Unibet, announced it would exit North America.

Indian Country has had some struggles with finding reliable partners. Previously, the Tonto Apache lost its original partner when TwinSpires exited the market. The Ak-Chin Indian Community (Bet365) lost its original partner when Fubo Sportsbook shuttered.

The application window will be open until 5pm local time on 19 July.

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