The federally-mandated Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 was an incredible boon to the Arizona casino gaming industry. With one of the United States’ largest Native American populations, state residents (and government coffers) stood well poised to take advantage of good old IGRA.
Today, the state boasts some 28 casinos, all Native American-operated, mostly situated nearby Arizona’s cities and/or major tourist attractions – and, despite recent state government moves to prevent the creation of Arizona casinos off reservation land, seems likely to support casino gambling for some time to come.
Population: 6.731 million (off. 2014)
Area: 113,998 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 21
Number of Casinos: 28
• In Arizona, it is illegal to refuse a request for a glass of water.
• The Navajo Nation within Arizona observes Daylight Savings Time; the rest of the state does not.
• It is illegal to hunt camels in the State of Arizona, perhaps because the experimental U.S. Camel Corps often operated in Arizona in the mid-19th century.
• Tombstone. Need we say more?
Talk about your lawlessness. Without digging deep into arcane state politics, there is little trace of any mention of gambling at all until 1988. In the 30 years since the passage of the bill, prevailing state law has evolved into this: With three exceptions – the state lottery, pari-mutuel betting and at Native American-run casinos – all gambling in Arizona is illegal.
Betting on horse- and dog racing events has been legal basically since Arizona became the 48th sate in 1912, although greyhound racing was made illegal in 2016 when governor Doug Ducey and state legislators agreed to ban such racing. In June of that year, Tucson Greyhound Park closed; it was the last dog track in operation west of the Mississippi.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 opened the way to legal gambling and casino establishment on reservation land in the state, of which Arizona hosts the largest proportion in the U.S. at nearly 25%. Before that point, however, things got exciting – in Wild West fashion.
Within a few years, several locations on reservation land across the state installed slot machines and other electronic gaming devices, wooing players quickly while no state-level gambling law in Arizona was in place. Then-governor Fife Symington promoted the idea that such gaming houses should not be opened in Arizona, federal law or no.
In 1992, the National Indian Gaming Commission released guidelines for Native American interests to legally operate casinos under the IGRA law. In response, Symington called for federal assistance in shutting down all operating slot parlors. Five casinos were busted by FBI agents, who seized the slot machines, but the feds met resistance at Fort McDowell Casino outside of Scottsdale. After a three-week standoff, Symington signed the state’s first official compact with a Native tribe for casino operation rights. To this day, the Fort McDowell Casino is open – and May 12 is a tribal holiday observation in commemoration of the victory.
As of 2017, 21 of the state 22’s tribes have signed compacts with the state government, and 16 currently offer gaming.
With 28 venues operating as casinos in Arizona, we simply don’t have enough space to detail all the choices here. In brief, we’ll mention a few key areas in the state for gambling action.
When the dust settled after the disputes between the feds and Native American people, 1994 saw the opening of 40,000 square feet worth of gaming at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort in Maricopa. The Ak-Chin, along with the pair of Native-operated casinos in Connecticut, set the standard for such casinos in the U.S. and is still open today. Maricopa itself, a city of approximately 43,000 citizens about 40 miles south of Phoenix leads the state in terms of quantity with some six casinos, thanks in no small part to the overwhelming early success of the Harrah’s.
Tucson notably hosts four large-scale outlets in the Casino del Sol, Casino of the Sun, and two Desert Diamond Casino and Hotel outlets (one very close to the international airport, the other in nearby Sahuarita). Pima County also boasts six gaming parlors as well.
Again, outside the reservations, Arizona law on gambling is firm, so that’s probably why one can’t even buy a state lottery ticket legally if he/she isn’t 21. Same goes for the casinos and the harness-racing tacks still in operation in the state.
If you’re into tales of the Old West, you can probably find about a zillion notorious gamblers from Arizona, but in the present day, we’ll go with Sen. John McCain.
The one-time presidential candidate and long-serving U.S. Senator for the state of Arizona has long been known not only for his active participation in many gambling bills in Washington – particularly anything pro-IGRA or con-sports betting à la George W. Bush – but also for his love of casino table games, especially craps.
Indeed, during the 2008 presidential election, proponents of decriminalizing online gambling seemed to be in a win-win situation, what with McCain’s pro-gambling stances and Obama’s reported proclivity at poker. Aaaaaand we see how that turned out.
The overriding state law on gambling states that “no person may engage for a fee, property, salary or reward in the business of accepting, recording or registering any bet, purported bet, wager or purported wager or engage for a fee, property, salary or reward in the business of selling wagering pools or purported wagering pools with respect to the result or purported result of any race, sporting event, contest or other game of skill or chance or any other unknown or contingent future event or occurrence whatsoever.”
The point? You can bet on horseracing, the state lottery or games at casinos on reservation land. That’s it.
The mayors of eight cities nearby Phoenix kicked off 2017 by sending the governor a joint request to explicitly limit the number of casinos in said area for the foreseeable futures.
This sets the tone for the future of gambling in Arizona into the 2020s and beyond. While the state does occasionally flip politically from blue to red and back, neither Democrats nor Republicans seem particularly keen on expanding gambling in Arizona off reservation lands. After all, the state only finally accepted federal law after an actual standoff and most citizens are unwilling at best to tolerate more casinos.
Figure the equilibrium in gambling in Arizona to be maintained for a while yet.