Judge Clears The Way For Millions To Be Earned In Sports Gaming

(Photo by Ethan Miller)

By Terri Jo Neff

Those Arizonans interested in wagering on Thursday night’s NFL opening season game between Super Bowl champs Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys will be able to legally do so, courtesy of a court order issued Monday.

Maricopa County Judge James Smith denied a request by the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe for a temporary restraining order (TRO) which would have postponed the Sept. 9 start of mobile sports betting within the state of Arizona. An attorney for the Arizona Department of Gaming argued that postponement had the potential to result in “millions per month” of financial losses to several businesses involved in the new gaming opportunities allowed under Arizona’s 2021 Indian Gaming Compact negotiated by Gov. Doug Ducey.

In its request for the TRO, the tribe argued that allowing the new 2021 gaming compact negotiated by to go into effect would result in “direct, substantial and uncertain injury” for its members. Such results would reduce the amount of revenues available for tribal operations and programs, the lawsuit alleged.

The tribe also argued that Proposition 202 which was approved by voters in 2002 to create gaming compacts with Native American tribes, so state lawmakers can only amend the initiative if it furthers” the purpose of the original proposition.

However, Smith ruled the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe was unlikely to prevail in its lawsuit, which still remains in play against Ducey as well as Ted Vogt, the director of the Department of Gaming. But it’s clear the odds are not in favor of the tribe securing an order invalidating the 2021 Compact or House Bill 2772 signed by Ducey which changed parts of state law related to gaming.

Supporters of expanded gaming in Arizona welcomed Smith’s ruling, as the Sept. 9 start date for the new betting options is the same day the NFL begins its regular season. One of those supporters is Rep. Jeff Weninger (R-LD17) who helped ensure passage of HB2772 and worked with Ducey to amend the nearly 20-year-old compacts.

“Thrilled to hear this decision and I am excited for event wagering to start on Thursday,” Weninger tweeted Monday evening. “Today was a good day.”

Some Arizona sports teams are even promoting the new gaming opportunities to their fans, such as the Phoenix Suns’ sweepstakes offered for those who preregister with FanDuel. The prize is an opening night suite and $1,000 in team shop credit.

By not signing on to Ducey’s 2021 Compact, Yavapai-Prescott will likely lose out even more than most, because its two casinos are limited to games allowed under its 2003 Compact, which does not permit games such as craps and baccarat included under the new compact.

During Monday’s special court hearing, Smith learned that the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe had been in settlement discussions with the Department of Gaming until late August. Whether those negotiations will continue is unclear, nor is it certain what options would be available under current law and the 2021 Compact.

Another question will be whether the new gaming options increase overall betting activity across the state or simply pull revenue away from the 17 tribes which currently operate casinos across the state.

In addition to the new games which can be offered at tribal casinos, the 2021 Compact allows 10 of the 22 tribes in Arizona to be licensed to engage in off-reservation mobile sports betting. Those licenses have been awarded to the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Navajo Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, and Tonto Apache Tribe.

The 2021 Compact also allows 10 professional sports teams to be licensed for off-reservation mobile sports betting along with offering books at select sports venues. Those licenses were issued to the Arizona Cardinals, Arizona Coyotes, Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Rattlers, Phoenix Mercury, Phoenix Speedway, Phoenix Suns, and TPC Scottsdale.

There is one other active lawsuit against the Department of Gaming related to new sports betting opportunities, but its claims are not going to stymie the start of mobile sports betting.

Turf Paradise contends its Phoenix-area horse track qualifies for one of the professional sports licenses and that the decision to deny its application was incorrect. The lawsuit was filed even though the owners of Turf Paradise have administratively appealed the denial to Vogt.