Feeling Lucky?: Sports Betting Goes Live in Arizona

By Savannah Wix.

Last April, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2772 into law, joining 25 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing sports gambling, ushering in a new era for Arizona sports fans. However, the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe recently challenged the constitutionality of the law, which allows professional sports teams to obtain licenses to run sports gambling operations. A Maricopa County judge refused to issue an injunction prohibiting the enactment of the law, allowing sports betting to become officially legal in Arizona on September 9, 2021, the first day of the 2021 NFL football season. This law has long-term implications, not only for Arizona, but more seriously for the tribal communities in the state.

The Surrounding Controversy: Effects on Tribal Communities

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe filed a lawsuit attempting to block the passage of HB 2772. They argued the law is unconstitutional for violating the state’s Voter Protection Act, which severely restricts the legislature’s ability to alter voter-approved laws, because it illegally amends the 2002 voter initiative which authorized tribal casino-style gambling. The 2002 voter initiative, Proposition 202, allowed certain types of gambling at tribal reservations while prohibiting gambling outside of the reservations. In fact, voters in 2002 specifically rejected a separate ballot measure which would have also allowed some gaming by non-tribal operators.

The tribe’s complaint argued HB 2772 violates the Voter Protection Act in two ways: by impermissibly expanding who can offer gaming and by expanding the types of gaming permitted by Proposition 202. The lawsuit stated that gaming provides a “critical economic lifeline” to Indian tribes in Arizona. It is no secret that tribal communities experience “extreme poverty, welfare dependency, and economic despair.” Proposition 202, which became the Indian Gaming Preservation and Self-Reliance Act, aimed to provide assistance to these communities by permitting gaming. Gaming provides tribes with “vitally needed funds for education, housing, health care, clean water, and other basic services on the tribal reservations.” It also creates thousands of jobs on tribal lands and supports an industry in Arizona that generates money both on and off of tribal lands. The long-term effects of allowing sports betting off of tribal lands could potentially be devastating for these communities.

Additionally, the tribe emphasizes the unfairness of HB 2772, which allows ten licenses for professional teams to conduct sports betting at or near their stadiums and online, while making tribes compete for only ten licenses to conduct their online sports betting. While there are only nine qualifying Arizona teams and events which could obtain these team licenses, there are more than double the amount of tribes than there are licenses available.

Despite these efforts, a Maricopa County judge refused to block HB 2772, remarking that the plaintiffs did not point to any language in Proposition 202 indicating that Arizona would never expand gaming to different activities or locations, among other reasons. The law went into effect on September 9, 2021, marking the beginning of a new reality for Arizona sports fans and for tribal gaming operations.

The Future of Sports Betting in Arizona

As Arizona sports gambling becomes prevalent throughout the state, the public can expect a few changes in the community. Besides the plethora of billboards popping up advertising the new availability of online and in-person sports betting, several brick-and-mortar additions to stadiums and arenas have already opened, welcoming fans to place bets before and during events. Governor Ducey also indicated that revenues from sports betting will benefit K-12 education, tribal nations, and social safety and infrastructure. Some say that gaming could bring in around $100 million in revenue for the Arizona general fund.

Although sports teams can now offer sports betting, Governor Ducey also signed a new tribal gaming compact in concert with HB 2772, allowing 22 tribes in Arizona—but not the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe—to significantly expand their gambling offerings and also allowing ten tribes to hold online sports books licenses.

But experts worry how sports betting’s rise in prevalence will affect the Arizona community’s mental health. Gambling addictions present a major threat to Arizonans, as over 45 million people are expected to place bets on football alone this season and about 5% of gamblers eventually develop an addiction. Additionally, Arizona chose not to use funds from sports betting to contribute to treatments that prevent and treat gambling addiction, which most states that legalized sports betting chose to do.

Conclusion

It has yet to be seen just how much the wide availability of sports betting will affect tribal communities and the Arizona community generally. But seeing as to how gaming provides a significant financial lifeline to tribal populations, the convenience of off-tribal-land, in-person, and online sports betting will undoubtedly impact gaming revenues on Arizona tribal lands.

If you or someone you know needs help with a gambling addiction, text NEXTSTEP to 53342 or call 1-800-Next-Step.

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By Savannah Wix

J.D. Candidate 2023

Savannah Wix is an ASLJ Staff Writer and a 2L from Phoenix, Arizona. She is the Director of Fundraising for the Women Law Students Association at ASU Law and is interested in commercial litigation. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys singing as part of ASU Law’s a cappella group, Law Cappella, and hiking with her dog, Zona.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the individual contributors to the ASLJ Blog and should not be construed as the opinions of the Arizona State Law Journal or the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.