Arizona Gambling and Casinos
Arizona’s gambling options include everything from Native casinos to state and national lottery games. The Valley of the Sun State does limit gambling, and its state code contains specific definitions and penalties that indicate they take gaming control seriously.
But, as was the case in a number of states across the US over the past few decades, the state granted certain Native American groups the right to provide games of chance and skill, and the trend since has been a slow but steady relaxation of the state’s once-tough gaming laws.
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Arizona Gambling Law
It’s really clear from reading Arizona’s state laws related to gaming that many types of bets (under the right conditions) are fully legal.
The state’s code does include a troublesome clause that I’m finding in the language of lots of right-leaning US states. It explicitly outlaws any game of chance or skill that is not designated as legal by the Arizona legislature. This is a catch-all law that some interpret as being directly in opposition to the legality of online betting, but that’s an issue for another article.
Legal Forms of Gambling in Arizona
Arizona allows for “charitable bingo and raffles,” as long as the operators of those contests follow a few simple rules. Believe it or not, all charitable games have to be pre-approved by the state’s gaming commission, and they have to be operated by a registered non-profit group. Also, since only bingo and raffles are mentioned specifically by name, it’s safe to assume that something like “Vegas Night” where a charity operates blackjack, craps, and roulette games would be totally illegal.
The state includes a strange provision for what legislators call “amusement gambling.” What they’re talking about here are video games and carnival games. For some reason, legislators decided they needed to include a specific allowance for these contests. It makes sense, though, since technically a carnival game would be illegal in the state, having not been explicitly legalized without this provision.
Legal Casino Gambling in Arizona
The most popular form of gambling in Arizona is the lottery – that’s the case anywhere the lottery exists, really. But the best-known gambling options within state borders are Native casinos.
Arizona is home to a larger than average population of Native Americans. In fact, as of 2012, ten percent of all Native Americans call Arizona home. The large population of Native people has to do with a population shift that took place during the mid-20th century. Native Americans were finding their federally-granted land taken out from underneath them by suburban expansion and imminent domain.
During the 1970s and 1980s, a strong Native American pride and activist movement brought about a lot of change in the US southwest. An offshoot of this movement was the regulation of Native gaming in the state. It took a few decades, but Native tribes concerned about their financial future finally won those rights in the mid-90s, and Arizona’s native casinos have been thriving ever since.
So long as gambling takes place entirely on Native land, Arizona tribal people can offer any game they’d like, from slots to video poker to bingo.
More Facts about Arizona Gaming Law
I learned a little about how the process works during research for this article, and I think it’s pretty cool. Any tribe with historic ties to Arizona and tribal land within the state’s borders can apply for a license to provide gaming.
Most are granted that right, and after they pay their fees, they’re given a certain amount of floor space they can set aside to gaming – the state also tells them how many machine games and table games they can host, but based on the availability of games at exiting casinos, the restrictions aren’t that big a deal.
If you want to gamble at a Native casino in Arizona, all you need is an ID proving you are at least 21 years old. From a quick review of the state’s major tribal gaming sites, it looks like most are open 24 hours a day. Some also provide pari-mutuel betting alongside the usual casino table and machine games.
At the time I wrote this review, 36 fully state-licensed Native casinos exist in thirty different cities in Arizona, and they’re spread pretty evenly among the population centers of the state. The casinos are fully-regulated, many are attached to Vegas-inspired resort properties, and these venues appear to be really popular, based on customer reviews.
Here’s a look at three popular Arizona casinos, to give you an idea of what to expect if you head to Arizona for a gambling trip.
Casino Arizona in Scottsdale, Arizona is located on Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian land. It’s been open since 1998, one of the first Native properties to provide gaming in the state. It’s also one of the largest Arizona casinos, with a total floor space of over 100,000 square feet.
Paradise Casino in Yuma, Arizona is operated by the Quechan Indian Tribe. Until recently, it was the farthest-north gaming spot in the state, and was therefore a popular tourist attraction for people from neighboring states with stricter gaming laws. It’s a smaller venue, but still offers thousands of gaming machines and tables around the clock.
Harrah’s Ak-Chin in Maricopa, Arizona is the closest thing to a true Vegas-style resort that Arizona has to offer. Operated by the Ak-Chin Indian Community (in partnership with the Caesar’s organization), Harrah’s Ak-Chin is a massive casino, poker, bingo, and pari-mutuel betting facility in the Arizona wilderness. Just a few miles drive from Phoenix, Harrah’s Ak-Chin is the flagship betting venue for the Arizona Native gaming industry.
Arizona’s gaming regulations are relaxing over time, as is the case in many states in the American south and southwest. The industry has been a boon for the state’s economy, though issues still exist that require legislation. A push for more widespread recreational gaming is not meeting with much opposition during the current legislative effort. It looks like Arizona could be one of the leaders in the pro-gaming movement in the southwest, a fact which would have been unthinkable two decades ago.