A judge in Arizona has refused to overturn a new sports betting law

September 7, 2021

A judge in Arizona refused to halt a new law allowing professional sports teams to handle sports betting, paving the way for the significant gambling expansion to begin as scheduled later this week.

Judge James Smith of Maricopa County Superior Court refused to issue an injunction prohibiting sports betting from beginning on Thursday. The decision came just hours after he held an unprecedented Labour Day hearing on a Native American tribe's appeal.

The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe wanted the statute declaring unconstitutional, which permits professional sports teams to get licences to handle sports betting.

They claim it violates the state's Ballot Protection Act by improperly altering a 2002 voter initiative that established tribal gaming in Arizona by enabling nontribal groups to operate gambling operations without a vote of the people.

Outside of tribal reservations, Proposition 202 prohibited gaming. However, according to Smith, Proposition 202 only limited the types of gaming permitted at tribal casinos, not other forms of wagering.

The judge also dismissed several of the tribe's other grounds for declaring the sports betting statute unlawful.

The tribe further claimed that the law enacted by the Legislature and signed by the Republican governor is unjust since it gives professional sports teams ten licences to handle sports betting at or near their stadiums and online, but only ten to tribes. Sports books can be operated by any tribe with a casino.

According to Smith's opinion, this is something worth looking at as the case progresses, but it falls far short of what is required to impose an injunction.

Smith agreed that the tribe's tardiness in initiating the complaint was a factor, noting that the legislation, as well as amended tribal gaming compacts approved by most Arizona's 22 tribes, were both signed in April.

In addition to slot machines, blackjack, and poker, tribal casinos can now offer games like Baccarat and craps. Ten tribes have been granted sports gambling licences, allowing them to operate online sports betting.

Five years of discussions between the governor's office and tribal leaders around the state resulted in the new compacts.