The Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe already lost round one of its legal fight against the state of Arizona, but it isn’t giving up. The tribe isn’t happy with the way new gaming compacts were created in the state and, in particular, how they led to the legalization of sports betting. It tried to get a judge to suspend all sports betting activity right before the state’s market went live and, after that attempt failed, it has decided it would try again.
Arizona Tribe Fights Uphill Battle
Late last month, just as Arizona was getting ready to launch its legal sports betting market, the Yavapai-Prescott tribe pounced. It threw a flag on the play, arguing that the expansion of gaming options in the state, while giving more flexibility to the tribes, would ultimately cause them to lose revenue. By allowing outside operators, such as FanDuel, Wynn Resorts and others, to participate, the state was effectively breaking the law governing Indian gaming rights.
The tribe launched its offensive and tried to get a judge to suspend the introduction of sports betting, mere days before the start of the NFL season. However, its request was denied, with the judge, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith, deciding that no concrete evidence to support a reduction in revenue was provided. He asserted that the tribe had only provided speculation on what might happen and, as a result, pushed the complaint aside and allowed Arizona to usher in a new era in sports betting.
Round Two Set to Begin
Because the sports betting laws in Arizona only authorize an allocation of ten licenses to the state’s tribes, even though there are 20 officially registered there, the Yavapai-Prescott people are dumbfounded at how the legislation, House Bill 2772 (H.B. 2772), could be considered legitimate. After being rejected in round one, the tribe is apparently gearing up for round two and has submitted an updated complaint to the courts. The details of the new complaint have not been released; however, now having more time to prepare its case, it’s highly likely that the tribe has added an arsenal of ammunition to its battle.
Included in that arsenal is a weapon that Judge Smith gave the tribe. In his ruling, he hinted that the complaint may have had merit if it had been based on the assertion that the gaming compacts violated the Equal Protection Clause. He explained at the time, “Tribes using trust land for expanded gambling is a much different argument than H.B. 2772’s treating tribes differently than Sports Franchise Owners. And that difference between tribes and sports franchises was the thrust of the Motion. The tribe could not use its Reply to broaden the argument. Those may be legitimate and serious issues to explore in this litigation, but they do not justify the injunction the Tribe requested.”
That would seem to indicate that the complaint can be justified and the tribe will likely explore that angle with its amended complaint. However, it will still have difficulty finding strong enough justification for even the courts to halt sports betting.