Arizona Sports Betting Now Backed by Tribes, Gov. Ducey Calls on Lawmakers to Get the Job Done

Posted on: January 15, 2021, 05:39h. 

Last updated on: July 26, 2022, 09:38h.

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, wants regulated sports betting, and he’s won the support of the state’s 16 tribal casino operators. Now he’s calling on the legislature to pass a bill to make it happen.

Arizona sports betting
Gov. Doug Ducey, seen here, has negotiated new compacts with the tribes that include provisions for Arizona sports betting that will be accessible off-reservation via mobile devices. (Image: Matt York/AP)

The legislative effort to legalize Arizona sports betting fell flat in 2019 and stalled last year. In part, that’s because the tribes wanted gambling expansion issues to be decided within their compact extension negotiations. That would allow greater influence on what form they might take. Ducey agreed.

The compacts have given the tribes exclusivity on casino gaming for the past 20 years. They are due to expire in 2020.

In a document handed out to lawmakers this week, the governor said he negotiated new compacts with the tribes, sports betting included. The terms have not been publicized, but local media has reported that the tribes would have exclusivity on sports betting, and that mobile was on the table.

Arizona Sports Betting Has Hurdles to Clear

It’s not clear whether the agreement would allow the tribes to distribute betting kiosks to bars and restaurants throughout the state, as per the most recent legislative effort.

Currently, Arizona allows betting on horse and dog racing at racetracks and at more than 50 off-track betting sites scattered throughout the state, mainly in bars.

As per the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988), which regulates tribal gaming in the US, gaming under federal law is only permitted to occur on sovereign reservations. That makes state-wide mobile and land-based gaming problematic without changes to the law. That’s where the legislature comes in.

States have the right to make their own gambling laws. But in Arizona, authorizing off-reservation sports betting would probably require a public referendum, beyond a vote in the legislature.

‘21st Century Gaming’

“Our goal is to bring Arizona gaming into the 21st century,” Ducey press aide C.J. Karamargin told Capitol Media Services. “A lot has changed since the first compacts were signed, back when cell phones weren’t the thing they are now. The world looks a lot different today, and our proposal is intended to reflect the way people live their lives today.”

Tribal casinos contributed more than $96 million to the state’s general fund last year, supporting education, health care, conservation, tourism, and problem gambling programs.

Ducey has long been a fan of expanding gambling as a means of increasing revenues without raising taxes. A Ducey-backed attempt to introduce keno in the state in 2018 was shot down. The tribes complained it violated their monopoly on casino games.