Arizona officials looking at legalizing sports betting may have hit a roadblock in talks with the state’s casino-owning Indian tribes.
With the US Supreme Court decision in May to overturn the ban on sports betting, states across the country have been racing to get their own sports betting legislation in place. Arizona officials were looking to do the same, but it appears that they may have hit a roadblock in the form of the Indian tribes in the state.
History of gambling in Arizona
Arizona has some of the strictest gambling regulations in the country. However, the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act meant that casinos in some shape or form had to be allowed in the state.
Horse racing and dog racing were the main avenues for legal gambling in the state along with the variety of lottery games that had been allowed after a public vote in 1980.
As of this year, dog racing will no longer take place in Arizona. Previously, five tracks had operated in the state for more than 70 years. Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation in June banning the sport, and the last dog race has already taken place at the Tucson Greyhound Park.
Horse racing has not yet been banned altogether. Two tracks still exist, Rillito Park in Tucson and Turf Paradise in Phoenix, both of which rely on the proceeds of on-site gambling to stay open.
Daily fantasy sports remain banned in the state, with different bills in favor of legalization facing rejection, denying residents the right to enter these fantasy contests and the opportunity to win a variety of prizes, including cash.
Casinos operated on Native American or Indian reservations in the state were legalized in the 1990s. There are limits on the number of slot machines allowed on these premises. The minimum age for gambling at a casino is 21, and most of the venues are open round the clock.
All of the casinos are in the Southwest portion of the state. Arizona currently boasts 23 casinos comprising more than 18,000 slot machines and nearly 400 table games.
The state’s strict stance on gambling suits the tribes who generate revenues of up to $100m (£77.6m) annually.
Sports betting legalization ahead?
With the state’s anti-gambling reputation, it might seem that widespread sports betting legalization would be off the table in Arizona, but it does have some supporters.
High-level talks about allowing sports betting have come up against a major roadblock. The legalization of sports betting in the state would break up the virtual monopoly currently held by the tribes and have a significant impact on their takings.
There is a law in place that gives exclusive rights to the tribes when it comes to certain aspects of the gambling sector. As part of this, the tribes have to contribute a certain sum to the state. However, the introduction of sports betting would change matters entirely.
It could cost the state up to $80m (£62m) each year if this Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact was to be broken up and the tribes would also legally be able to open up further casinos in the region.
These compacts, drawn up in 2002, were amended recently to allow the tribes to introduce more extensive offerings on their premises in return for not developing any more casinos in the metropolitan region of Phoenix. One of the tribes, the Tohono O’odham, took no part in the amendment.
The governor may introduce a new law or instigate another amendment to the compact that would see sports betting regulated and the tribes as the first organization entitled to offer sports betting in the state.
If this happens, the state is unlikely to issue more than a dozen sports betting licenses, which will be too few to generate any significant revenue for the state.