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Arizona & Phoenix Local News
What the Future Holds for Gambling Laws in Arizona
November 19, 2019
Aeizona Gambling in the Future

Arizona is a land of contradiction when it comes to gambling. We’re pretty sure that when Genesis sang about the Land of Confusion, they were talking about gambling in Arizona. If you visit the Great Canyon State with fingers itchy for a bit of gambling, it won’t be easy to find a suitable establishment that isn’t on tribal land.

In fact, wagering for money is entirely illegal in the state of Arizona. The state has 23 tribal casinos that offer legal wagering opportunities. Everything else is a massive violation of Arizona law. No matter how small, any wager can get you in trouble, unless placed with the representatives of one of the 22 Native American tribes.

Gambling Laws in Arizona

Arizona allows social gambling, where no money exchanges hands, as well as amusement gambling. In other words, wagering for real money is illegal.

Online gambling is entirely illegal as well, so if you want to find a way to gamble online for real money, you’ll have to be quite ingenious. However, no matter how contradictory that might be, gambling state laws in Arizona have quite a few loopholes as well.

For example, do you know what would happen if you tried to gamble online from a tribal casino? Well, probably nothing, given that repercussions aren’t instantaneous. But do you know whether it would be illegal or not? We don’t, and neither do the authorities because the law doesn’t cover everything.

What Does the Law Cover?

Most Arizonans already know that the Native American tribes have been operating casino gaming for over 30 years. However, not everyone knows how that came to be. To say that the battle between the state and the tribes has been turbulent would be an understatement.


Arizona Department of Gaming Back in 1988, the IGRA Federal bill allowed Native American tribes to regulate wagering and gambling on their own land. There was quite a bit of tension over the next few years, especially once the Native Americans installed slot machines. The Governor’s office was particularly irked by this and kept trying to challenge these rights.

Here’s the thing — the entire Federal bill was based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow the tribes to self-regulate gambling on their land. That ruling stated that wagering was permitted on tribal land because it was allowed off tribal land as well. Now, casino games aren’t permitted off-reservation. However, horse racing, dog racing, bingo games, as well as the state lottery and other charitable lotteries are. That was the leverage the Native Americans needed. They argued that these types of games don’t differ when it comes to wagering.


Of course, given that Arizona had (and still has) such strict laws on off-reservation gaming, the Governor’s office challenged the legality of tribal casinos. When the Native Americans installed slot machines, the authorities raided their locations. That started a metaphorical and literal standoff between the tribes and the state.

Passions ran high until 1993. That’s when the state of Arizona signed the Tribal-State Gaming Compacts with 16 tribes. These compacts regulate the number of casinos and give tribes exclusive rights regarding on-reservation wagering.


In 2003, the compacts were first renewed, and then, the newly elected officials signed them with five more tribes.

So how did the Native Americans win this battle with the state of Arizona when it has such strict laws on gambling? They looked for loopholes.

Legal Gambling

Arizona allows dog and horse racing as well as state lottery and other charity and bingo games. That’s precisely what the native Americans used as leverage when they stated their case.

Today, casino games are legal strictly on-reservation, while off-reservation, things aren’t looking up anytime soon.

Illegal Gambling

Sports wagering, online casinos, online gambling in general, poker, as well as daily fantasy sports are either illegal in Arizona or part of a legal gray area that no gaming operator is willing to risk it all to set up shop in Arizona.

The Future of Gambling Laws

By all likelihood, Arizona will have to do something regarding the regulation of online gambling. Still, don’t hold your breath. Given that the state gets a hefty cut of tribal casino profits, everyone waiting for an opportunity to legally gamble online for real money in Arizona will have to show the patience of a saint.

Arizona’s neighbors like New Mexico, California, and Nevada, especially Las Vegas, have already started regulating or looking into regulating online gambling. There’s no question that Arizona will have to change its stance toward off-reservation wagering (and online gaming in particular).

A Few Parting Words

So what’s new with gambling laws in Arizona and what to expect in the future? Arizona manages to be extra strict when it comes to gambling and still earn millions from it. Since around 27% of Arizona is tribal land, the state has no problem with exploiting the exclusive tribal rights on regulated wagering.

With a strong push to authorize fantasy sports betting with real-money wagers, as well as other forms of online gambling, Arizona will have to follow in the footsteps of other, more progressive states and determine the right way to regulate and legalize it.

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