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NHL Coyotes leave Arizona. What will happen to their event wagering licence?

| By Jill R. Dorson | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Salt Lake City welcomed the NHL team that was formerly the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday (24 April) night. When the team boarded a plane headed north, it would seem that it had vacated an event wagering licence in Arizona. But SaharaBets is still live and the situation might not be as clear as it appears.
arizona coyotes event wagering license

The Arizona Department of Gaming told iGB via email that neither the team nor SaharaBets had been in contact. The NHL is calling the Coyotes franchise “inactive” and the sale to a Utah-based group is a bit unusual, as current owner Alex Meruelo retained rights to the name, team IP, records and the AHL Roadrunners affiliate franchise.

It appears that unless the Coyotes or SaharaBets makes formal contact with ADOG, the site will remain live. In this situation, ADOG doesn’t appear to have a way to take action. Rather, the state legislature could clarify language saying that a team must be active to have an Arizona event wagering licence.

“The department is aware of the recent reports regarding the Arizona Coyotes. However, the department has not received any notice from the Coyotes and/or their sports betting designee related to this matter,” a spokesperson wrote.

Unused Arizona event wagering licences

By law, Arizona event wagering licences are awarded to professional sports franchises and Indian tribes. In this case, the Coyotes are licensed to offer legal wagering. There are 20 licences available, 10 each for professional sports teams and tribes.

So far, only eight professional sports team licences have been claimed and it appears that no other franchises in the state meet the qualifications. The law allows for teams that play “at the highest level” of their sport in Arizona to qualify. Teams from all the major professional sports plus the PGA Tour, Nascar and the Arena Football League have all been licensed. But in a state with no Major League Soccer teams, the United Soccer League’s Phoenix Rising was first denied a licence (2021) and later declined to reapply (2023).

All 10 tribal licences have been claimed and, in the first round of licensing in 2021, more tribes applied than licences were available.

“This has caused an interesting conundrum in a law that already promised more licences than are (awarded),” consultant Brendan Bussmann, who has clients in Arizona, told iGB. “This is for a franchisee that has acted like a tumbleweed in the desert for the last three years and is still rolling across the desert and holding onto an event wagering licence in Arizona.”

This situation exposes a loophole

According to Fronteras, the NHL still views Meruelo as the owner of the Coyotes and has given him five years to reactivate the team. He also owns the wagering platform SaharaBets.

It appears that as owner of the franchise, even if it is inactive, Meruelo can continue to operate SaharaBets, which has been live for two years and has paid the state $48,000 in taxes.

The situation illuminates a loophole around Arizona event wagering licences and for other states that attach such licences to franchises. The Coyotes and SaharaBets never opened a brick-and-mortar sportsbook in Arizona because at the time that ADOG licensed the team, it didn’t have a permanent home. Now it doesn’t have players.

Tribes the losers in this case

The players and staff who flew up to Salt Lake City on Wednesday did so as members of a new expansion team in Utah. New owners Ryan and Ashley Smith bought the roster, draft picks and hockey operations for $1.2bn. The team will resume play in the fall under a new name.

Back in Arizona, there are two professional sports franchisee licences that are unused. And now there is one being used by a franchise that isn’t playing in the state. Meanwhile, there are at least a handful of tribes that applied for licences in 2021, but were denied.

“This is still one of those where you could have a tribe that is interested in a licence, but won’t get one because you tied up more (pro) licences than (teams) exist,” Bussmann said.

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