Arizona Sports Betting Bill Again Seeks To Legalize Off-Reservation Wagers

Posted on February 4, 2020 - Last Updated on February 5, 2020

An Arizona sports betting bill from last year, which would give tribes the option to offer sports betting off of their reservations, was filed again this week.

There’s one primary problem with that: That’s likely against tribal gaming rules.

SB 1525 only made it to a second reading last year when it was filed as SB 1158. Two of last year’s sponsors, Sen. Sonny Borrelli and Rep. Steve Pierce, are back pushing the sports betting bill.

Passing the bill through the legislature is just half the battle. SB 1525 would require voter approval through a referendum to be legalized.

Arizona sports betting bill details

Most of the bill is relatively simple. Arizona has 22 federally recognized tribes, 16 of which operate 24 casinos in the state.

Those 24 casinos could offer sports betting through retail books and kiosks at the casinos. There would be no online or mobile sports betting authorized by SB 1525.

The bill would ban betting on any sporting events prohibited by the NCAA. That doesn’t mean much since the NCAA can’t prohibit betting on any events.

Federal law defines where Indian gaming can occur

Where the bill gets a little tricky is its mentions of operations in off-reservation facilities:

“An Indian tribe that is authorized to operate sports betting pursuant to this section may operate sports betting through kiosks or similar machines that are located at one or more premises that have a bar license, a beer and wine bar license or a private club license that is issued pursuant title 4 and may enter into a lease or rental agreement for the purpose of operating sports betting with a person that holds a bar license, a beer and wine bar license or a private club license.”

While the above section is a nice sentiment to keep tribes happy and allow Arizona sports betting throughout the state, it likely can’t happen under the current law.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is pretty clear on where Indian gaming can and cannot happen. In short, Indian gaming can only be conducted on lands that are either part of their reservation or in trust.

That’s according to chapter 29, section 2703. There are exceptions in section 2719, but bars the tribes enter into agreements with don’t appear to be included.

A federal bill filed last year by a New York representative seeks to allow online wagers by changing current law.

Calls to the National Indian Gaming Commission seeking clarification went unreturned at the time of publication.

Hypothetically speaking …

Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why allowing the tribes to enter into those agreements would be valuable to the state.

The bill limits kiosks rented or leased out to the total amount of gaming machines allowed under the state’s compact. According to the state’s department of gaming, 20,500 machines are allowed, with about 15,600 in use.

That would leave around 3,900 kiosks to be distributed throughout the state by the 22 tribes if no other slot machines are added.

Revenue from those machines would then be taxed at 6.75%, letting the state dip into the tax benefits of Arizona sports betting despite it technically being an Indian-operated game.

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Matthew Waters

Matthew Waters is a reporter covering legal sports betting and the gambling industry. Previous stops include Fantini Research and various freelance jobs covering professional and amateur sports in Delaware and the Philadelphia area.

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