AZ Tribes Can Have A Retail Sportsbook, But No Online Betting On Tribal Land

Posted on April 29, 2021

Arizona’s sports betting legislation limits mobile wagering to 10 Native American tribes, but that doesn’t mean that all tribes won’t get sports betting.

The Arizona Department of Gaming confirmed to PlayAZ that all tribal casinos can have retail sports betting.

Arizona has 24 casinos operated by 16 tribes. Six rural tribes do not have casinos but lease their allotted slot machines to tribes that do.

PlayAZ got clarification on several other unknown details of the legislation and tribal compacts signed this month by the governor.

Online betting not allowed on tribal lands

Maxwell Hartgraves, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Gaming, explained that there will be no mobile wagering on tribal reservations.

In addition to the 10 mobile licenses for tribes, Arizona’s law provides 10 online sportsbook licenses for professional sports.

Those licensees, as well as the mobile operators partnered with other tribes, will have to geofence out tribal reservations.

However, Hartgraves also indicates that tribes won’t be able to offer mobile apps on their own reservation.

Who decides which 10 tribes get mobile licenses?

Arizona tribes agreed to just 10 mobile licenses, as Gov. Doug Ducey wanted an equal number between the tribes and sports teams.

But with 22 tribes, 16 with casinos, who will make the difficult decision as to which tribes are left out of the most profitable avenue for sports betting?

Hartgraves said that, once the Department of Gaming finishes drafting rules around mid-June, one rule will address the process of selecting tribes for mobile licenses.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, offered an amendment to give a mobile license to each tribe.

“They should all be able to do that,” Gonzales said of tribes offering mobile licenses. “Mobile wagering will be able to be used anywhere in Arizona, so they should all be able to have one of those licenses.”

Speaking Wednesday at a webinar hosted by National Indian Gaming Association Conference Chairman Victor Rocha, Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel hinted at some arrangement for all to benefit from mobile wagering.

“We want to make sure that everyone is getting a fair opportunity … with these licenses,” said Miguel, who added that he hoped Ak-Chin got a mobile license. “… I know 10 licenses are earmarked. But we’re going to find a solution for the other half. And, overall, when it’s all said and done, despite the dilemma of only a certain amount of licenses, I think we’re going to be fine. Everybody’s going to move forward in a great way. They’re going to figure it out.”

State Senator thinks tribes will regret compacts

Gonzales was a vocal opponent of the gaming expansion legislation on the Senate floor.

Speaking with PlayAZ, she contended that powerful Phoenix metro-area tribes led the compact negotiations. Other tribes, she believes, were strong-armed into coming on board or being left out.

She added that tribes saw a financial benefit in getting new compacts no matter the terms.

“With the compact in hand, tribes can go to banks and say let’s negotiates rates to save them millions of dollars,” Gonzales said. “The interest rates right now are really low for renegotiating loans. That’s the biggest reason they want it.”

Gonzales’ own Pascua Yaqui tribe, on which her daughter and sister serve on the tribal council, supported the legislation. However, she thinks the state’s rural tribes will end up finding out this was a bad deal.

“For sure I think in the long run there’s going to be some litigation in this deal simply because tribes find that the major league sports and metro tribes are really making the big bucks and we’re left holding the bag,” Gonzales said. “It really is a bad deal. I hope it fairs better for tribes because I’m really concerned in the long run it’s going to kill Indian gaming.”

Tribes are happy with outcome and optimistic for future

Miguel described the scene backstage at the signing ceremony of the legislation and compacts held by Gov. Ducey.

Tribes aren’t just getting sports betting from the compacts. They also get Las Vegas-style craps and roulette in the deal. And they can build four additional casinos in the state.

Through its partnership with Harrah’s, Ak-Chin is well-positioned to take advantage of the new offerings.

“Tribes were congratulating each other on their opportunity and their success,” Miguel said. “You just felt the strength and emotions in that room, that we wanted everybody to be able to succeed even more so with this new compact.”

Photo by AP / Felicia Fonseca
Matthew Kredell Avatar
Written by
Matthew Kredell

View all posts by Matthew Kredell