Lawsuits Try To Derail AZ Sports Betting Launch Plans

Arizona mobile sports betting will go live as planned on Sept. 9, unless a judge sides with a tribal nation or horse track that wants to stop the launch. 

Arizona Superior Court Judge James Smith is expected to take up a request for an injunction this Friday from the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe, which says it was excluded from tribal-state gaming negotiations with Gov. Doug Ducey that led to a 2021 amended gaming compact and related state law allowing sports betting on and off reservation this fall. 

The Yavapai-Prescott tribe is one of only two out of 22 Arizona tribal nations that did not sign the amended tribal-state gaming compact. The other is the Hopi tribe, which is not a party to the Yavapai-Prescott lawsuit. 

Tribes that did sign an amended compact with the state will be able to offer both retail and mobile sports betting, with retail sports betting covered by the compact. They’ll also be able to offer high-level table games like baccarat at their casinos. The Yavapai-Prescott tribe runs two casinos — Bucky’s and Yavapai, both near Prescott. Gaming at both of the facilities operate under a 2003 tribal-state gaming compact that controls how many slots and other gaming machines the tribe can have.

There is no mention in the 2003 compact about sports betting. 

Also expected this Friday is a hearing on an injunction request by Turf Paradise horse racetrack in Phoenix. The track filed suit after it was denied a mobile license by the state. At issue is whether or not the racetrack is considered by law to be a professional sports venue (racetracks are not typically designated as pro sports venues). 

Arizona horse racetracks are eligible for limited sports betting licenses under the law, although it’s uncertain if Turf Paradise applied for one of those. 

Awkward Timing For Legal Action

The lawsuits were filed a day before the state announced which major sportsbooks will be licensed by the Arizona Department of Gaming or ADG. 

It was a legal move that has rankled more than a few Arizonans, including Arizona State Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, a lead sponsor of the state’s sports betting law. Shope said in a statement that the timing of the lawsuits “amount to an end-around on that qualifications-based awarding process at the Department of Gaming.” 

“I expect any legal challenges to be quickly dismissed so that the economic opportunities already happening as the result of Tribal-State Gaming Compact Amendment can continue to materialize,” Shope said. 

Quick resolution is ideal for Arizona Cardinals fans who, for the first time this fall, will be able to bet legally on their favorite NFL team either inside State Farm Stadium or by mobile app anywhere in the state. Cardinals fans are among millions of sports fans the world over who are now picking promos and planning bets ahead of the regular season. 

Does The Tribe Have A Case? 

It will be up to the courts to decide if the plaintiffs of the two lawsuits have legal standing. But attorneys in the sports betting arena are already trying to take apart at least one case. 

Daniel Wallach, who specializes in sports betting legal issues, parsed the Yavapai-Prescott lawsuit on Twitter, calling it an “uphill battle” and citing reasons why. Wallach pointedly challenged the tribe’s claim that a 2002 Arizona state law and 2002 tribal-state gaming compact that allowed an increase in slot machines at tribal casinos in exchange for revenue sharing with the state limits Class III gaming to tribes. 

“What (the law) actually says: ‘an Indian tribe MAY conduct the following forms of gambling …’ Huge difference,” tweeted Wallach

The amended 2021 tribal-state gaming compact adds sports betting to the definition of Class III gaming under Arizona law — something that Wallach argues was addressed back in 2002. 

Prop 202 actually contemplates that the state would enact new laws to authorize other forms of Class III gaming for non-tribes. The remedy in that situation would be a reduction of revenue-share payments, not an injunction to block,” Wallach tweeted.

Next Steps

An emergency court hearing for the tribe’s case is scheduled for this Friday, Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. A hearing time for the Turf Paradise case was pending earlier today.

About the Author

Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments. 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.