Could Judge’s Ruling Stop Launch Of Arizona Sports Betting At 1-Yard Line?

Written By C.J. Pierre on September 6, 2021 - Last Updated on January 30, 2023

UPDATE: Sept. 6, 6 p.m. — Arizona Superior Court Judge James D. Smith rendered a ruling Monday evening denying a request from the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would delay the launch of legal sports betting in the state. As a result, for now at least, the targeted Sept. 9 rollout of regulated wagering in Arizona remains on track.

With the launch of legal Arizona sports betting just days away, officials faced a significant legal hurdle Monday morning.

Today, the Maricopa County Superior Court held an emergency hearing regarding a lawsuit filed by the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. Naming Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Gaming Director Ted Vogt as defendants, the tribe has requested a temporary restraining order against the rollout of regulated wagering in the state.

Lawyers claim lawmakers illegally passed legislation that authorized state-regulated wagering in April. The tribe has pushed an injunction and declaration against HB 2772. The tribe says the law, which grants sports betting licenses to 10 professional sports franchises and 10 tribes, is unconstitutional.

Judge James Smith, overseeing the case, expects to render a decision Monday night. A ruling favoring the plaintiffs could prevent the launch of legal betting in Arizona, set to go live Sept. 9.

Defense emphasizes legality of Arizona sports betting law

During the virtual hearing, the plaintiffs and defendants were given 30 minutes apiece to make their arguments on the lawsuit.

Lawyers for the governor and the ADG argued that the tribe is not justified in asking for a delay ahead of Thursday’s scheduled sports betting launch. Anni Foster, attorney for Ducey, stated the tribe was essentially asking for a “do-over” from the court.

Much focus surrounded the claim that the sports wagering law violates the Voter Protection Act. The tribe says the new law illegally expands who can offer gaming and illegally expands the types of gaming permitted by Prop 202, which passed in 2002.

However, Foster said that the sports betting bill doesn’t repeal or remove any voter-approved initiative.

“At no point in Prop 202 does it promise that tribes will forever have exclusive rights to gaming in Arizona. Tribes and sports franchises are on equal footing with the sports betting bill. Both have equal opportunities for in-person and online sports betting across the state, not just on tribal lands.”

Yavapai-Prescott fears irreparable harm from AZ sports betting

Patrick Irvine, representing the ADG, said sportsbook operators and license holders will lose millions in revenue every month the sports betting launch is delayed. He emphasized that the defendants presented a quantifiable loss, rather than a theoretical loss like the tribe’s lawyers put forth.
Nicole Simmons, attorney for the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe, fired back. She stated that just four weeks passed between the sports wagering bill’s introduction to Ducey’s signing it into law. Simmons argued that tribes located closer to the Phoenix-Metro area can expand their gaming outside of what the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe is allowed to do. She noted the financial damages the tribe would suffer as a result of sports betting becoming legal.
“The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe has no idea how many mobile apps there will be, or how many potential retail locations there will be. I think the question of how much will be earned is an entirely different question than when exclusivity is lost and competition is apparent.”

What happens next?

Judge James Smith directed a majority of his questions to the lawyers for the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. He wondered whether or not the language in Prop 202 forever limits gambling in Arizona.

He went on to say that Prop 202 includes a provision that if there are changes to gambling laws in the state, the tribes would have a reduced financial contribution obligation and can take part in more forms of gambling. That would include the addition of new tables games like craps and roulette.

When Smith asked if lawyers for the tribe are arguing that the state needs a new voter-approved law to expand event wagering outside tribe lands, Simmons responded that he was correct. Smith said he will try to make a ruling later on Monday. Last week, during a Friday preliminary hearing, the judge said he expects whichever party he rules against will file an appeal.

The first mobile betting apps in Arizona intend to go live Sept. 9, the same day the NFL season kicks off. Online sportsbook operators are already signing up customers in Arizona.

That is, unless the Yavapai-Prescott receive a favorable ruling from Smith.

Photo by AP / Matt York
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C.J. Pierre

CJ Pierre is a multimedia journalist currently residing in the Phoenix-Metro Area in Arizona. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. CJ has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career. Most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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