Vegas-style casino games, sports betting come to Arizona




Gov. Doug Ducey displays a copy of the state's new tribal gaming compact at a signing ceremony at the Heard Museum in Phoenix on April 15, 2021. Photo by Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror

Native American tribes will be able to offer new kinds of Las Vegas-style table games, sports wagering, more slot machines and gaming tables and several new casinos in the Phoenix metro area under a new gaming compact negotiated by tribal leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ducey and tribal leaders signed the compact at a ceremony at the Heard Museum in Phoenix on Thursday. The new agreement is good for up to 20 years, with an automatic renewal after 10 years. The governor also signed legislation legalizing gambling on sporting events in Arizona, which will be the exclusive domain of the tribes and professional sports franchises and organizations that operate in the state.

The governor, flanked representatives of 16 Native American tribes, lawmakers and others, touted the new compact as the result of more than five years of negotiations. Ducey described it as a modern compact that accounts for the many changes Arizona has experienced in the nearly 20 years since the old compact went into effect. 

“Getting here took a lot of work and was not guaranteed. Today’s signing is the culmination of years of discussions and engagement among many diverse stakeholders — tribal communities both rural and urban, gaming industry partners, and more,” Ducey said. “We did it by bringing everyone to the table, pushing individual agendas aside, and putting Arizona first.”

Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community, which operates three casinos in the Phoenix metro area, said it was a difficult journey to reach an agreement on the gaming compact, beset by arguments and disagreements, but touted the tribes’ achievements as sovereign nations and Arizona citizens.

“We stand unified today in a way I didn’t think possible five years ago when we started out,” Lewis said. “There’s an old saying that goes something like this — just because we did it doesn’t mean it wasn’t impossible when we set out. Yet here we are.”

Much of the new compact will resemble the old one that voters approved in 2002 and which went into effect the following year. But there are a number of significant changes.

Under the old compact, tribes could provide slot machines and some table games, such as blackjack and poker. Other table games, however, were prohibited. The new agreement lifts those restrictions, allowing tribes to offer the same games that Las Vegas casinos have, such as craps, roulette, baccarat, pai gow, sic bo and dealer-controlled table games, as opposed to machine-controlled games.

The new compact increases the number of slot machines the tribes are cumulatively permitted to operate. Tribal casinos were permitted to have a total of about 20,500 slot machines under the old compact. As of early March, Arizona tribes operated about 13,600 machines, according to the Arizona Department of Gaming.

Sixteen tribes currently operate 25 casinos across the state.

Another major change in the compact won’t be limited to tribal casinos. House Bill 2772, which Ducey also signed on Thursday, legalizes betting on sporting events and fantasy sports in Arizona. The law also legalizes electronic keno outside of tribal casinos.

Under the new law, the Department of Gaming can issue up to 20 licenses for organizations to offer sports gambling. Half of those licenses are earmarked for the tribes, while other half will go to professional sports franchises in Arizona, as well as the operators of sites that host racing events or annual Professional Golf Association events, which will permit sports books at TPC Scottsdale, which hosts the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and Phoenix Raceway. 

License holders will be permitted to operate a sports book within five blocks of their facilities. They will also be able to contract with another entity to provide wagering services. Sports book licensees will be permitted to offer sports betting online as well.

Sports betting is expected to generate about $34.2 million in annual revenue for the state by fiscal year 2024, according to an analysis by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The compact now goes to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which will have 45 days to either approve or reject the agreement. If the department doesn’t act within that time period, it automatically goes into effect.

The new compact doesn’t make any changes to the revenue distribution system that’s been in place since 2003.