Arizona Sports Betting Rolls Out Thursday as Judge Thwarts Last-Minute Effort to Block

Posted on: September 8, 2021, 09:09h. 

Last updated on: July 26, 2022, 09:37h.

Sports betting is set to kick off Thursday in Arizona in time for the NFL season. That’s after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge declined to issue a temporary injunction on Monday for a tribe that claimed the state acted inappropriately in legalizing the wagering opportunity.

Arizona Sports Betting
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray looks downfield for a target during the San Francisco 49ers game last season. When the Cardinals kick off the 2021 season, fans in Arizona will be able to bet on their games. (Image: Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Arizona Superior Court Judge James D. Smith issued the ruling on Labor Day after holding a hearing that morning with representatives from the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe and Gov. Doug Ducey’s office.

The tribe, which filed its lawsuit nearly two weeks ago, claimed Arizona lawmakers disregarded the state’s constitution when it passed House Bill 2772. The legislation authorized the state to award up to 20 licenses divided between the state’s tribal nations and Arizona’s professional sports teams.

Ducey signed that bill into law on April 15. Because it contained an emergency clause, the law took effect immediately. That allowed state officials to begin working immediately on implementing sports betting regulations and overseeing the licensing process. It also enabled Arizona to have online sports betting applications up and running in less than five months.

In most cases, laws take effect 90 days after the Arizona Legislature session concludes.

Judge Not Persuaded by Yavapai-Prescott Claims

In seeking the injunction, the tribal nation questioned whether the sports betting law truly was an emergency, which, as the bill stated, “is necessary to preserve the public peace, health or safety and is operative immediately” under Arizona law.

Tribal leaders also claimed the bill violated the state’s Voter Protection Act, as they claimed a referendum voters passed 19 years ago to authorize agreements between the state and tribal entities also required voters to approve any gaming expansion.

The Yavapai-Prescott also argued that the law put it and other federally recognized tribes at a disadvantage. Both the tribes and professional sports teams received 10 licenses, but there are currently just eight pro sports teams and 22 tribes.

Smith said in his written order that none of the arguments tribal leaders made warranted an injunction. He added that leaders did not provide any data to show a potential economic loss as a result of not having access to sports betting. Lastly, he indicated that the Yavapai-Prescott’s decision to wait and file the suit undermined any claim it would be harmed.

HB 2772 was introduced Feb. 3, 2021,” Smith wrote. “Gov. Ducey signed it April 15, 2021. The tribe knew then that the legislation took effect immediately. Nonetheless, the tribe waited more than four months to file suit; it filed only when this new gambling structure was about to launch.”

The Yavapai-Prescott can appeal the judge’s ruling.

Lawyers representing the Yavapai-Prescott did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.

Arizona Awarded 18 Sports Betting Licenses

According to the Arizona Department of Gaming, 18 federally recognized tribes conduct gaming in the state. That includes the Yavapai-Prescott. The tribe operates two Class III casinos in Prescott, located about 80 miles north of Phoenix’s Central City district.

Those casinos – Bucky’s Casino-Prescott Resort and the Yavapai Gaming Center – have a combined 485 Class III machines. Bucky’s also has seven blackjack and two house-banked poker tables.

The department announced the successful sports betting applicants on Aug. 27 and allowed them to start marketing in preparation for Thursday’s launch.

Those license holders and operator partners, if announced, are: