Game on: Judge refuses to block new Arizona sports betting law

Legal sports gambling kicks off Thursday in Arizona, but not everyone is happy. A judge this week ruled against the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe, which argued that the legislation that legalized sports betting is unconstitutional. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Although legalized sports gambling is set to begin Thursday in Arizona, not everyone is happy.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Monday against a Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe request to block an Arizona law allowing sports gambling. Turf Paradise race track filed a similar lawsuit but it was set aside last week.

“Monday’s ruling is not just a win in court, but a win for Arizona,” said C.J. Karamargin, a spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey. “A tremendous amount of work has gone into implementing HB 2772 and the amended tribal-state gaming compacts. This ruling means that work will be allowed to continue.”

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe sued the Department of Gaming and Ducey, arguing that the new sports betting laws violate the 1998 Voter Protection Act and Proposition 202, the Indian Gaming and Self-Reliance Act, which passed in 2002.

The Voter Protection Act requires the Arizona Legislature to allow a public vote on any changes to any voter approved law.

Proposition 202 allows for the continuation of regulated gambling on Indian lands as long as a tribe shares 1% to 8% of its revenue to fund statewide public services.

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe argued that when Proposition 202 was approved, it applied only to certain types of gambling, and sports betting was not one of those. Therefore, it said, including sports gambling violates the 1998 Voter Protection Act.

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The tribe also argued that the approval of sports gambling would have a negative effect on tribal businesses.

Judge James Smith oversaw the Labor Day trial and came to his verdict quickly because of the closeness of the start date and the possibility of an appeal.

“The case is not necessarily over, as the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe will have the ability to appeal the decision,” said Maxwell Hartgraves, the public information officer for the Department of Gaming. “To that end, the department cannot comment on this ongoing litigation.”

The tribe was not the only group opposed to the new sports betting laws. Only 20 sports gambling licenses were awarded, with 10 going to select tribes and 10 to professional sports franchises, including TPC Scottsdale, the site of the Waste Management Open.

Turf Paradise didn’t receive a license.

“Our case is scheduled to go to court this Friday, Sept. 3. Until that proceeding is adjudicated, we will have no further comment,” Vince Francia, the general manager at Turf Paradise, said last week.

The lawsuit, however, was set aside before Monday’s decision against the Yavapai-Prescott tribe.

With sports betting set to begin Thursday, the Department of Gaming argued that if the start date was delayed, the state would lose millions of dollars.

Sports betting will be available online across Arizona in time for the first NFL game of the season: the Dallas Cowboys versus the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jerry Walker jer-ry wal-ker
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jerry Walker expects to graduate in May 2022 with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Walker, who covered soccer and tennis for Inferno Intel, is working in the Phoenix Sports Bureau.