Arizona Gambling Laws

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Sunshine, Wide Open Skies, & Lots of Gambling Options

Alongside the gambling meccas of New Jersey and Nevada, Arizona is one of the most gambling-friendly states in the nation. Even though Arizona has the luxury of being the only state to boast one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon, as an extremely profitable tourist attraction, residents who wish to try their luck on a state lottery, in tribal gaming casinos, or in the comfort of their own homes, are fortunate to have a governing body that seems to understand its constituency’s desire to gamble both online and in a real live casino setting.

Online Gambling Fairly Safe for Players, Not So Much for Operators

Like most other states, Arizona currently has no state law on the books regarding the legality of online gambling. Residents of the Copper State have numerous opportunities to wager at online casinos. Arizona and the rest of the United States follow the statutes of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. This federal law, whose wording is extremely vague and has often been lambasted by critics as being difficult to enforce, makes running and profiting from an online gambling site illegal, but it says nothing about playing a hand of online poker.

The UIGEA, which was heavily supported by Republican Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, was designed to stop Internet gambling by making it a crime for banks and financial institutions to facilitate the depositing of funds by players to online gambling sites. However, since these Internet sites are overwhelmingly offshore and not on American soil, it is difficult for Arizona lawmakers to thwart residents’ participating in online casino games.

Although Arizona legislators currently aren’t working toward banning participation in online gambling, it doesn’t mean they’re not on the lookout, especially when it comes to helping enforce federal law. In September, 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleged that some $13 million in an illegal account at Goldwater Bank of Arizona came from profits from online gambling activity. Some of the illegal financial transactions were traced to PokerStars, which was one of the sites indicted in 2011 in the famed “Black Friday” online poker charges levied by federal prosecutors in an attempt to stop online poker playing by U.S. residents. The FBI required the bank to pay a minimum fine of $733,800 to settle the allegations, as well as set up an anti-money laundering system to help prevent it from occuring again. The fine amount was the estimated profit that Goldwater Bank took in via the illegal account.[1]

Most recent legislation concerning casino gambling in Arizona occurred in September, 2011, when HR2938[2] was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, called Gila Bend Indian Reservation Replacement Clarification Act, and sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, would “prohibit certain gaming activities on certain Indian lands in Arizona.” The bill changed the Gila Act to make illegal all Class II or Class III gaming that took place on land where the Tohono O’odham Nation was previously allowed to buy. In so doing, the government would take over all rights to the Gila Bend Indian Reservation. HR2938 has not yet passed the Senate or the House. This most recent attempt at legislation is far from the first time the state legislature and a tribe have clashed over gambling rights.

Tribal Casinos are the History of Gambling in Arizona

Arizona gamblers are fortunate to live in a state heavily populated by Native American tribes allowed to operate casinos on tribal lands. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 “established basic federal regulations and enforcement responsibilities for Indian gaming on reservations. Congress adopted this legislation to promote tribal economic development while providing a framework for legitimate federal and state regulatory concerns.” [3]

Tribal casinos in Arizona really began to thrive after the landmark case of California vs. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians in 1987[4]. The ruling paved the way for tribal casinos to operate as they do today. The state of California sued the tribes on the belief that the bingo parlor and card club run by the Cabazon and Morongo Bands of Mission Indians violated state law. The Cabazon and Morongo Bands argued successfully all the way to Supreme Court that “because California State law did not prohibit gambling as a criminal act–and in fact encouraged it via the state lottery–they must be deemed regulatory in nature. As such, the authority to regulate gaming activities on tribal lands was found to fall outside those powers granted by the Public Law 280.”

That public law, enacted in 1953, gave six states, one of them being California, criminal jurisdiction over tribal lands within state boundaries. The Supreme Court ruled by a 6-3 majority that because the State of California did not consider gambling a criminal act, it should be considered regulatory. Once the ruling was handed down, the already popular tribal gambling phenomenon began to grow exponentially.

Later on, Arizona had its own lawsuit, but this time it was a tribe suing the state. In 1992, the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe vs. Arizona ruling forced the State of Arizona to enter into negotiations with the tribe to try to set up a compact. A year later, the negotiations became the compacts that help govern the tribal casinos today. By 1994, ten casinos were in operation and sixteen tribes had agreed to compacts. Court cases involving other tribes occured throughout the late 1990s, but none of them proved to be detrimental. In 2003, however, the Arizona State legislature struck down a resolution that would have been an agreement between the governor and the tribes signaling the completion of negotiations on tribal-state compacts. Ultimately, the 17 tribes collected enough signatures to get the tribal-state compact issue onto the 2002 ballot. It passed.

Tribal gaming became so popular that in 1995 the Arizona Legislature turned the Arizona State Gaming Agency into the Arizona Department of Gaming, the body that now helps oversee Indian casino operations in conjunction with the Arizona Tribal State Gaming Compacts. These compacts are very specific, and they encompass all tribal casinos in the state. Fifteen tribes operate 22 Class III casinos throughout the state, and the compacts mandate that the tribes “make monetary contributions to the State based on the net revenues received from gaming operations.”

Gambling’s Future in AZ Remains Promising

With regard to Arizona state online gambling legislation, the current state legislature has focused their attention to other more pressing matters at this time. However, Sen. Kyl, who previously had been a staunch proponent of anti-gambling measures, including his role as a major force on the federal UIGEA legislation, has seemingly had a change of heart regarding online gambling. Kyl is known to be working with Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) on a federal online poker bill that would permit poker to be played online from the U.S. and allow individual states to opt out of being part of the legislation if they so choose.

It is not known if the failure of federal regulations would spur Arizona lawmakers to take it upon themselves to work toward passage of state online gambling legislation. Sen. Kyl’s flip-flop on the issue is certainly encouraging. However, the three-term Senator has announced his retirement at the end of this term. With federal legislation perceived by many to be unlikely in a lame-duck Congress, it may fall upon lawmakers other than Kyl to get online gambling regulations in place.

However, with the exception of HR2938, residents of Arizona have 22 tribal casinos throughout the state in which to place their bets. Last year, $1.7 billion in revenue was reported by Indian tribes in the state. Including the untold amounts from participation in online gambling, it’s obvious that Arizona gamblers enjoy placing wagers and are taking advantage of the gambling opportunites available.

References, Citations and Further Reading

[1] Arizong online gambling laws by
[2] Arizona House Bill 2938 Proposes Change To Arizona Gambling Laws – records
[3] Arizona Department of Gaming About Us Page by Arizona State Website
[4] State of California vs Cabazon Indians by
[5] Albert Patterson Bio by