Arizona Sports Betting Will Proceed, Judge Orders

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Arizona sportsbooks will indeed go live as planned on Thursday after a judge today denied a tribe’s request to delay the launch.

The Labor Day ruling sets the stage for an appeal three days before the Sept. 9 start of Arizona sports betting both on and off reservation.

Maricopa Superior Court Judge James Smith’s denial for injunction of a 2021 Arizona law authorizing sports betting was filed late Monday after an early-morning hearing on the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe’s lawsuit against Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Gaming (ADG). The tribe has maintained that the law violates voter protections and tribal gaming exclusivity.

The lawsuit also seeks to void a 2021 federally-approved amended tribal-state gaming compact with 20 Arizona tribes which is required for sports betting both on and off the reservation this fall.  Two of the 20 tribes – the Tonto Apache and Quechan tribes – last week filed a notice to intervene in the lawsuit.

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe is one of only two tribes (the other being the Hopi Tribe) that did not sign the 2021 compact.

The State’s Argument

Gov. Ducey was represented at the hearing by his general counsel Anni Foster, who claimed that the Yavapai-Prescott tribe wants “a do-over” just days before the planned launch.

“That is not the purpose of a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction,” she said.

She challenged the reasoning behind the tribe’s request – specifically that gaming can’t be expanded off reservation under Arizona law. Foster said the tribe asserts that gaming cannot be expanded off reservation,”then are arguing … it has not been expanded enough,” apparently referring to Yavapai-Prescott’s claims that it was excluded from 2021 tribal-state compact negotiations.

“The evidence in the record … clearly shows effort on both the state and other tribes to make plaintiff part of negotiations,” said Foster.

Pat Irvine represents the ADG in the case. He said tribes and professional sports franchises set to launch sports betting on Thursday will lose millions of dollars every month that the launch is delayed.

The Tribe’s Response

Yavapai-Prescott counsel Nicole Simmons argued a 2021 state law allowing sports betting by tribes on reservation and by licensed tribes and commercial entities off-reservation violates voter protections under Arizona’s constitution.

The 1998 Voter Protection Act amendment to the state’s constitution prohibits the Arizona State Legislature from changing or repealing voter-approved ballot measures without putting proposed changes before the voters first.

“And, so when (that) says, ‘hey you can’t enter amendments’ … and then (2021) HB 2772 over here amends (law), it violates the initial law,” Simmons argued.

Smith questioned how that argument holds up under a 2002 voter-approved law allowing Arizona tribes to offer gaming on their lands under tribal-state agreement. Known as Prop 202, the law allows for expanded tribal gambling pending tweaks to state statute.

Simmons’ response was that any new gaming would require another constitutional amendment, adding “the tribe (Yavapai-Prescott) can’t engage in any wagering off reservation. All it can do is what it is doing now.”

Possible Next Steps

Word on when, or if, the Yavapai-Prescott tribe will appeal the ruling is uncertain. Meanwhile, sports betting in Arizona is on schedule to launch at midnight on Sept. 9, just in time for NFL kickoff in Tampa.

A lawsuit challenging Arizona sports betting filed by Turf Paradise horse track in Phoenix was set aside by Smith last week. That suit was filed after the track was denied a mobile sports betting license by the ADG.

About the Author

Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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