Ducey And State Legislature Betray Arizona Voters Through Sports Betting Bill

(Photo by Ethan Miller)

The Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 allowed Casino style gambling on Indian lands as long as the tribes and states entered into agreements negotiated in good faith.  IGRA’s intent was to assist Indian Tribes with economic development that would lead to self sufficiency, provide for their own welfare and benefit surrounding communities.

After difficult litigation against then Governor Symington in the early 1990’s, the first ten year Tribal/State compacts were authorized. In 2002, an initiative authored and funded by Indian Nations (Prop. 202) was approved by 51% of Arizona voters, re- authorized Indian gaming and Tribal/State compacts for up to 23 years exclusively on Indian reservations. Prop. 202 was approved by a majority of voters with the promise that Gaming would only be allowed on Indian lands. Today, Governor Ducey and the majority of Arizona Legislators are reneging on that exclusivity promise. The new proposals clearly disrespect the will of the people by allowing off-reservation sports betting. To protect this exclusivity provision, the current tribal/state compacts include a “poison pill” statement that ensures that if any new casino style gambling game is allowed by the state, then Indian gaming opens up without  limitations. In theory and effect if a tribe rejects a compact, Indian gaming will expand without limitation.

As is normal in Arizona, GREED PREVAILS. Tribes have been convinced to support this legislation with a promise of increased revenue from expanded gaming. This legislation is intrinsically tied to existing compacts. The Native American leadership has been persuaded into supporting this legislation with deceptive and insincere promises from the Ducey tribes and his band of lobbyists. The result can be devastating consequences for decades to come. It can be argued that tribes are again being taken advantage of by the power brokers. The winners?  Not the tribes, but the Ducey tribes, that is, the professional sports owners!

The proposal allows for 10 sports betting licenses for private professional sports owners and 10 off-reservation Indian tribal licenses. The state recognizes 23 Indian Tribes. Thirteen of them will be ineligible for a license. These will be mostly smaller rural tribes that do not own casinos who experience the highest poverty rates.  Rural tribes are cast aside and are relegated to live in perpetual poverty, making a mockery of Indian gaming principles. While it is true that these rural non gaming tribes could receive $117 million dollars from the largest tribes over a ten year period, these tribes need to jump through numerous hoops to qualify. An amount of about $688 thousand dollars per tribe annually is a pittance compared to their need.

Potential revenue to be generated by the private sector could be in the multi-billion dollar range. The State of Colorado (https://www.denverpost.com/2021/01/26/sports-betting-revenue-first-year/) generated 1.2 Billion dollars in the first year from private professional sports betting! This legislation financially favors private professional sports owners by generating billions of dollars in revenue. Yet they are not mandated to provide funds to surrounding communities, charitable entities, or gambling addiction organizations. Even more troubling is that the legislation fails to protect personal data from patrons who gamble on line.

Fraud and corruption must also be addressed particularly in collegiate sports which obviously is the most vulnerable. Case in point: Recent revelations of U of A violations in their men’s basketball program.

Democrats are in a position to improve this proposal by ensuring that the will of the people is respected and preserved. Democrats must stand up and defend the public’s mandate. However, rumor has it that Democrats made a deal with Ducey and are prepared to carry his water. No deal is worth betraying the Indian tribes and the public.

Luis A. Gonzales is a former four term Arizona State Senator and has worked as an Indian Gaming regulator for more that 25 years in Arizona. He can be contacted at tosali@hotmail.com