Arizona Sports Betting Launch Could Face Delay as Tribe, Horse Racetrack Seek Injunctions

  • The Yavapai-Prescott Tribe and Turf Paradise Racetrack filed suits last week to block the launch
  • With the September 9 start date approaching, the court will hear both cases on Friday this week
  • The tribe’s suit argues that Arizona officials have contravened a gaming compact from 2003
  • Turf Paradise owner TP Racing has described its license denial as “arbitrary and capricious”
Injunction on document
A tribe and a horse racetrack are both seeking injunctions in Arizona to block the launch of sports betting, expected on September 9. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Two unhappy plaintiffs

The residents of Arizona almost have access to legal sports wagering for the first time in their history. The state’s gaming regulator handed out 18 sports betting licenses last week ahead of an expected market launch on September 9. However, a tribe and a horse racetrack operator have thrown a spanner in the works.

officials have unlawfully excluded them from the new market

The Yavapai-Prescott Tribe and the owner of Turf Paradise Racetrack have filed for injunctions in an attempt to block the betting launch from taking place. Both claim that officials have unlawfully excluded them from the new market, going against the state constitution and a tribal gaming compact from 2003.

In light of the approaching legal betting launch date, Arizona officials have scheduled two emergency hearings for the suits on Friday this week. If either eventually leads to an injunction, it could mean betting in the state won’t begin in time for the start of the NFL season.

The tribe makes its case

The Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, which owns Bucky’s Casino and the Yavapai Casino in Arizona, filed its lawsuit in the Maricopa County Superior Court last week. It names Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Gaming (ADG) director Ted Vogt as defendants, and asks the court to stop the licensure process under HB 2772.

Gov. Ducey approved the legalization of sports betting in April this year by giving the green light to HB 2772. The legislation works in tandem with an updated tribal gaming compact negotiated earlier in the year. It allows for wagering at professional sports venues and tribal casinos, with 20 licenses on offer.

The suit argues that Ducey forced the tribe to agree to wagering laws in exchange for new gaming options, such as baccarat and craps. In addition, the group claims that its exclusion goes against a 2003 compact previously agreed with the state. By taking away the tribe’s exclusivity to gaming, the new betting law “materially changes” this compact agreement, according to the suit.

Arizona’s civil court will hear the Yavapai-Prescott lawsuit at 1pm local time on Friday. Notably, the legal challenge arrived on the same day that the ADG handed out the state’s first sports betting licenses. Of the 18 awarded, eight went to professional sports organizations and ten to tribal partners. Six tribal applicants failed to gain a license.

Turf Paradise denied a permit

In addition to the Yavapai-Prescott lawsuit, Arizona’s betting backers have another legal challenge to worry about courtesy of the Turf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix. Officials rejected TP Racing, the venue’s owner, in the state’s licensing process last week. The ADG argued that it could not categorize the racetrack as a professional sports franchise, but Turf Paradise has filed a lawsuit in the hope of changing that decision.

arbitrary and capricious, not supported by substantial evidence, and/or an abuse of discretion”

The lawsuit describes the license denial as “arbitrary and capricious, not supported by substantial evidence, and/or an abuse of discretion.” Added to this, Turf Paradise notes a section on the ADG’s own website which refers to the racetrack as a sports franchise. It reads: “That dream became a reality on January 7, 1956, when Turf Paradise opened its doors becoming one of Arizona’s first sports franchises.”

The court will hear Turf Paradise’s lawsuit at 2pm local time on Friday. Like the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, it also seeks an injunction to delay the September 9 launch for approved operators.

The ADG announced a full list of approved licensees on Friday last week. Tribes okayed for sports betting licenses included the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Quechan Tribe, and the Tonto Apache Tribe. Meanwhile, officials have approved sports franchise licenses for the Arizona Cardinals, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Phoenix Suns, and the Phoenix Speedway, among others.