Arizona Poker Laws

Arizona’s gambling industry is seemingly at odds with itself. On one side of the fence, the state they call The Grand Canyon State boasts a fairly wide array of tribal casinos. Additionally, the majority of its gambling laws, or at least those pertaining to players, are rather moderate in nature. Furthermore, former Arizona State Sen. Jon Kyl (Rep.) backed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s campaign to legalize online poker on a national level. [1]

Yet, that same Jon Kyl was a staunch supporter of the UIGEA of 2006. And as for Arizona’s tribes, many are still hesitant to throw their traditional headgear into the iGaming ring, fearing that legal Internet gambling may cut into their land-based casino revenues. Also, Arizona is one of only a handful of states that have outright criminalized Internet gambling and fantasy sports wagering.

Last, but certainly not least, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne was a strong supporter of anti-iGaming crusader Sheldon Adelson’s Restoration of America’s Wire Act [2] proposal (formerly known as the Internet Gambling Control Act) – an act that would prohibit just about all forms of online gambling.

While it may seem that the cards are neatly stacked against Arizona ever becoming a participant in the Internet gambling, consider that the state is sandwiched between one state (Nevada) that has already legalized Internet gambling, and another (California) that is poised to make a serious push towards regulation in 2015. Will peer pressure be enough to one day sway Arizona’s conservatives to consider an interstate compact? Perhaps. But if it isn’t, the gradually shifting viewpoint of Arizona’s tribal leaders may.

Can Players from Arizona Play Real-Money Online Poker?

Arizona’s strong anti-iGaming stance hasn’t deterred the majority of US-facing sites from allowing residents of the state to register and fund an online poker account. And as far as we can tell, playing on such a site poses little risk to players.

The best place to play online poker remains Europe, where in most countries real-money online poker is regulated and fully legal.

Is Online Poker Legal in Arizona?

The bulk of Arizona’s gambling statutes focus on penalties as related to individuals and organizations operating illicit gambling rings. As such, players that participate in unsanctioned games, be it live or on the Internet, are presumably exempt from prosecution.

That being said, Arizona provides one of the most encompassing definitions of gambling, Section 13-3301.4:

Gambling or gamble means one act of risking or giving something of value for the opportunity to obtain a benefit from a game or contest of chance or skill or a future contingent event…

Notice that Arizona groups skill games under the definition. This alone removes all ambiguity regarding whether or not the state deems poker played for real money a gambling game. It does.

The statutes go on to define other forms of gambling such as Regulated Gambling (gambling conducted in accordance with a tribal-state gaming compact) and Social Gambling (gambling that is not conducted as a business and that involves players who compete on equal terms), which is essentially a non-raked, not-for-profit home game.

Regulated, social and charitable gambling are considered legal, and therefore exempt from the law, in so long as all participants are of the state’s legal gambling age of 21.

The core penalties for operators are covered under Promotion of gambling, Section 13-3303:

Except for amusement or regulated gambling, a person commits promotion of gambling if he knowingly does either of the following for a benefit:

  1. Conducts, organizes, manages, directs, supervises or finances gambling
  2. Furnishes advice or assistance for the conduct, organization, management, direction, supervision or financing of gambling.
  3. Promotion of gambling is a class 5 felony.

Working as a paid employee of an underground gambling establishment is a class 1 misdemeanor.

As mentioned previously, Arizona explicitly prohibits the state itself or Indian tribes from operating Internet gambling. Recently, challenges to a state’s right to prohibit a tribe from conducting iGaming have emerged. [3]

Of late, many former online poker players have turned to the emergent daily fantasy sports industry as a source of income. Unfortunately, players from Arizona are out of luck, as the state’s ban on fantasy sports wagering overrides the UIGEA’s fantasy sports carve out.

Arizona Gambling History

By the time Arizona became eligible for statehood in the early-20th century, the nation was in the midst of a war against illicit gambling. In fact, Congress required Arizona to adopt an anti-gambling stance before accepting it into the Union. For the next four decades, gambling was relegated to back alley houses and other underground facilities; horse racing being the only legal exception. In the 1950s dog racing and charitable gambling was added to the mix.

By the mid-1980s, Arizona’s regulated gambling landscape began to expand rapidly. First, charitable organizations were permitted use of slot machines. Around the same time, social gambling was granted exception from the law. Then in 1991, the statewide lottery was established, followed thereafter by the establishing of tribal casinos throughout the state. However, due to a lack of proper contracts, state tribes were forced to wage a decade long court battle before gaining full sovereignty over the casino industry. Tribal contracts were renewed in 2002, and today 21 of Arizona’s 22 tribes host gaming operations on their reservations.

But as a sort of trade-off for allowing a more varied menu of gambling options, Arizona legislators tightened up their stance against unregulated operators.

Regulated Gambling Options in Arizona

Arizona residents can enjoy a variety of regulated gambling activities. There are 22 tribally run casinos, most of which feature live poker rooms. The state also hosts a multi-jurisdiction lottery, and charitable organizations are given relatively free rein over what games they offer. Horse racing is also legal in Arizona.

The only major form of gambling not regulated by the state is commercial gambling. But there’s always nearby Las Vegas for that.

Other recent headlines

Arizona’s horse racing industry is in decline. Lobbyists are fighting to convert historic Rillito Park Horse Racetrack into a major soccer venue. [4] In addition, Yavapai Downs failed to open for a fourth consecutive year. That leaves Turf Paradise Race Course in Phoenix as the only thriving race track in the state.

In other news, Senator Adam Driggs’ (R-Phoenix) campaign to legalize fantasy sports in Arizona fell flat. [5] Senate Bill 1468 proposed to make fantasy competitions legal, but failed to overcome strong opposition from Native American gaming powers, many of whom felt that legal fantasy sports wagering would tap into their b&m casino revenues.

On a more positive note, Arizona’s casino revenues are on the up-and-up. For the first time since the Great Recession of 2008-09, tribal casinos pulled in more than $1.8 billion. [6] While that’s still a far cry from the $2 billion plus the industry was generating at its 2007 and 2008 peaks, the numbers indicate that casino gambling is alive and well in Arizona.

The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Arizona

Arizona’s future in the iGaming market hinges on a number of variables. First, the state must reverse its law prohibiting tribes and the state from conducting and operating Internet gambling. Secondly, tribal factions would have to get on board. This issue is presumably less of a problem, especially now that it’s been proven that Internet gambling does not cannibalize revenue from brick and mortar casinos.

But compounding matters further is the general conservatism of Arizona’s legislators, and the AG’s firm anti-iGaming stance. That being said, at over 6.5 million residents, Arizona is certainly large enough to host a bustling online poker community. Presuming that Nevada forges an interstate compact with its neighbor, the industry’s chances of success become that much greater.

With all of these intangibles in mind, we expect Arizona to take an exceedingly cautious wait-and-see approach to online gambling.


  1. Jump up ^ Reid, Kyl join forces on Internet gambling, pen letter to AG
  2. Jump up ^ S.2159 – Restoration of America’s Wire Act
  3. Jump up ^ Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Files Counter Motion to California Lawsuit
  4. Jump up ^ Racetrack to remain at Rillito Park, for now
  5. Jump up ^ Bill legalizing fantasy sports in Arizona fails
  6. Jump up ^ Casino gambling making big bucks in Arizona