Legal Gambling in Arizona

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of Arizona

Arizona has a rich history, was once part of Mexico, and is home to 22 separate tribes. The population of this State has boomed in the years post WW2, and residents enjoy a lot of gambling opportunities on Tribal lands. Outside of these lands, Arizonans options are restricted compared to many States – though social and amusement gambling are allowed. This page is a detailed guide to gambling laws in the State Of Arizona.

First up below, you will find a brief history of the gambling laws and their effects on this state in quick-fire format. Things really kicked off in 1988, when a Federal bill gave the tribes more rights to regulate casinos on their land. After this there is a game-by-game run through of what is and is not legal in Arizona – followed by a chronological timeline of the key statutes. At the end of this page you can find a quick summary and a look into the possible future scenarios for Arizona residents.

Arizona Gambling Laws – A Brief History

Arizona has some strange contradictions in its gambling laws. In this State you can drive to one of 20 tribal casinos and enjoy the full spread of casino games in luxurious surroundings - yet gambling just a few bucks on Fantasy Sports is considered illegal. Bar poker games exist, though no entry fees can be charged and participants claim that busts are seemingly at random. Residents can enjoy lottery games, charity casino and bingo games and make pari-mutuel bets on horses and dogs. Betting online is not allowed, though the only enforcement was for money-laundering reasons. It is unclear whether online gambling from reservations would be covered by the current laws at all.

Things got interesting in this State when Congress handed powers to the tribes to regulate casino gaming on their own land with the passing of the 1988 ‘Indian Gaming Regulatory Act’. This lead 5 years of tension and legal threats, as the tribes installed slots – only to have this right challenged by the Arizona governor’s office. Eventually in 1993 ‘compacts’ were signed, which lead to the development of the mega-casinos that Arizonans enjoy today. These compacts were extended to 21 of the 22 tribes in this State in 2003.

There are no current discussions about online gambling in Arizona. This is currently assumed to be illegal under the general State code – though there is no president or case history from the State’s courts specifically stating this.

Arizona Gambling Laws – What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal

This section takes the different gambling formats one-by-one, giving a quick overview and a legal status for each.

Casino Games: Yes, these are legal on tribal lands, and with a lot of reservations the Indian casinos are big business in this State. You can find slots, table games and poker at 20 lavish casino resorts around the State. Charity casino games nights are also allowed, though these are strictly controlled in terms of prizes and need to be licensed in advance.

Online Casinos: No, as in many States the online component is not explicitly mentioned in the laws, the central assumption is that this is illegal under the main State code. There are no regulated in-State sites or any current plans to license them.

Live Poker: Yes, player-v-player poker can be found at Indian casinos and at many dedicated card-rooms on Indian territory. Social poker games are allowed, though these can not involve any fee or rake or even any ‘voluntary donations’. Social poker has been interpreted as covering bar-leagues which do not have an entry fee or cash prizes. These are shut down on occasion with no discernible pattern. Home games are also covered by the social poker exemption.

Online Poker: No, there are no regulated sites, though the law does not directly mention online gaming, there have been busts in the past for online gambling activity. One interesting discussion which has been raised in this State is whether online poker would be legal from tribal lands?

Sports Betting: Yes, you can bet on horse racing and greyhounds while on track or other licensed locations. The racing tracks use the pari-mutuel (pooled) model and do offer simulcast races. Fantasy sports betting, which is legal in many jurisdictions, is not legal in Arizona.

Lottery Betting: Yes, Arizona has a state lottery, this includes both draws and instant games and does participate in the inter-State draws such as Mega Millions.

Bingo Games: Yes, you can enjoy bingo via the Tribal lands and for charity purposes. Bingo is strictly regulated and charity games will need an advanced license.

Arizona Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline

Arizona became a State in 1912, though did not enjoy a population boom until after the 2nd world war. Unlike many States, there was no gambling legislation to kick start revenues after the great depression here. The history of this States legislation really gets interesting after 1988, when the tribal lands – which make up 25% of Arizona’s territory – were first granted permission to build casinos. Since then there have been many conflicts between the tribes and the State. Today things have settled down into a status-quo in which Arizonans can enjoy some of the best tribal casinos in the country.

Here is the key definition of gambling from the statute books:

“4. "Gambling " or "gamble " means one act of risking or giving something of value for the opportunity to obtain a benefit from a game or contest of chance or skill or a future contingent event…” (From 13-3301)

Note that ‘chance or skill’ is covered in this very broad definition, which includes poker games and any sporting type events too. Arizona take the ‘ban it all, then offer explicit exemptions’ route.

Here is a timeline of legal events in Arizona.

1912: Arizona becomes a State, their laws ban all forms of gambling where the house makes a profit, though carve out exceptions for social gambling (home-games with no one making a profit, even from ‘voluntary donations’), and ‘amusement gambling’ (which involves no prizes beyond more play).

1980: Legislature approves a State lottery, which remains popular to this day.

1988: The Indian Gaming Regulatory act passed by Congress had a big impact on Arizona, which has many reservations and tribal groups. This act gave tribes explicit permission to regulate casino gaming within their territory, including popular table games.

1990: Several AZ tribes installed slots on their land, which did not go down too well with then governor Fyfe Symington. A stand-off develops with the tribes claiming that regulation of other gambling formats implies permission for the slot machines. This kicked off legal challenges and counter challenges from both sides which would last for more than 10 years.

1992 to 1994: Gaming compacts signed with 16 tribes (a 17th would follow in 1998) which allowed them to offer casino gaming and slot machines. This compact set controls and governance rules, these compacts last for 10 years.

2003: Compacts renewed, and an additional 5 tribes added – bringing the total to 21.

Arizona Gambling Laws – Summary and Look To The Future

With so many tribal casinos as well as legal poker rooms in this State, the status-quo of having gambling available yet tightly regulated has been reached in Arizona. There have been recent moves to break the ‘Indian Monopoly’ on casinos, which might create jobs outside of the reservations in State casinos – however these have not made it past the discussion phase.

With Nevada already regulating online poker games, and California discussing these, it is not inconceivable that Arizona might join a compact with these States for online gambling at some point down the line.

Useful Resources:

Charitable Gaming

Statutes

History

Indian Timeline