Arizona Gambling Laws
Arizona does not have the most flexible take on gambling law in the United States, nor does it have the most rigid. Many forms of gambling are deemed illegal, and there is no distinction made in the principal laws between games of chance or of skill, so that this distinction is in fact not used in determining the illegality of a gaming activity. No possible help for poker there then!
But if you’re looking for a flutter, you’re not out of options in this mountain state. Arizona is also home to numerous Native American reservations, including those of the Navajo, Hopi, Apache, Yaqui and Mojave peoples.
The laws for gambling on these reservations differ notably from those which apply across the rest of the state. Since one full quarter of the land in Arizona consists of federal reservations, there are a number of spicier options for licensed gambling available across a wide range of locales within state boundaries.
The Letter of the Law
Outside of the reservations, the law is relatively strict with certain notable exceptions. Arizona gaming law prohibits any gambling which takes a rake or charges an entry fee, including “voluntary donations”, or where a percentage of winnings are maintained by the house, or where any minimum purchase is required of players by the house, or any other consideration achieved by the house. This makes illegal most poker games, as well as most wagers place on sporting activities in public such as darts.
A good rule of thumb in the state is that unless a game satisfies one of six statutory exceptions, then it is likely illegal. Certain licensed raffles may be run by non-profits or by state and county agencies. There are a range of forms of regulated gambling within the state which will be explored below, as well as laws providing for ”amusement gambling” and “social gambling”. Games taking place at state, county and district fairs have their own range of exceptions.
Any person running amusement gambling or a raffle must be registered in advance with the Attorney General’s Office in Phoenix.
A concise government guide to these basic laws can be found here .
The statutes state  that a legal amusement machine consists of a device played for entertainment where there is active player participation, the outcome is not materially determined by other agency than the player, and, importantly, where either no benefit is accrued to the winner, or where the profit only accrues to the winner(s) by virtue of intellectual or athletic prowess (and certain other conditions are met), and thereby skill and not chance predominates.
Very strict prohibitions apply specifying the allowed limits of benefit to players also, such as a clause stating that no cash prizes may be offered, and capping merchandise prizes at a wholesale cash value of less than four dollars. In which case, these forms of gambling can hardly be said to provide any avenue for a serious wager.
Are online gambling and casino sites legal in Arizona?
Arizona State does not directly license for any online forms of gambling. There have been arrests detailed in the press for various forms of organized online gambling ring and premises.
There are also aspects to state law which would certainly seem to readily apply to the online forms of gambling, making online gambling for real money in almost all cases technically illegal within state boundaries. In practice the law has focused on busting people and organizations which promote online gambling or provide facilities for it. Promotion of any illegal gambling is in fact a felony charge in the state.
State code defines gambling as risking something of value for the opportunity of gaining a benefit. It is also illegal to obtain the said benefit. It could certainly then become legally problematic to start accruing major funds as a result of online gambling practiced within the state.
There are rumors of moves to regulate certain forms of online horse racing betting, but that is still very much at the Chinese whispers stage.
The law is fairly murky on the legality of online wagering practiced from tribal reservation land in the state, so this remains your own judgment call, but there’s no direct evidence for its legality.
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What forms of gambling is legal in Arizona?
First of all, despite its relatively strict gambling rules, Arizona does run a state lottery , which claims to have generated $2.8 billion for the state since it launched in 1998.
Betting on racing is allowed under state law provided one is present at the track when placing the bet. Pool contests are allowed provided there is no house benefit.
In fact, in recent years the state has actually licensed a few facilities for off-track betting as well, albeit firmly physical in nature. A comprehensive list of off-track betting options can be found on the Arizona government racing site .
Social gambling is allowed within a setting in which players compete equally against one another, no-one but players can wager, no rake is taken and no venue benefits, including through any promotion of the event. This does at least allow for friendly wagers at a home poker game, for example, if run within the law’s requirements.
Liquor establishments are also allowed to host games provided they are careful to adhere to these rules, as long as the prizes are non-monetary.
A guide to Arizona home games can be found here, which may be useful for current games, and for contact information of regular social players.
The grey market of gambling
Before we come to the Arizonan gambling hotspots, the Indian casinos, it’s worth taking a peek at an intriguing demi-world within Arizonan gambling. A number of poker leagues and other forms of wagering continue to be run by venues across the state, each of which is curiously poised on the brink of the law. Some of which get snap closed down, others survive, in a shifting backwater known to locals as the “grey market”.
An ex-judge in Cochise County has been running public games since 2005 . He represents another example of the split in gaming attitudes which exists across all classes of Arizonan society. The state has a rich part of poker history, despite its restrictions. “Judge Lee” claims to be standing up for social public gaming, and against the “Indian monopolies”, as he calls them.
Another purveyor of wagering bonhomie has launched a site  listing all the venues currently occupying the grey market, on which he elaborates on the legal subtleties of the grey market at some length, as well as providing links to every venue which he deems as falling into the category. Frequent them if you dare, knowing you likely occupy a dubious position under state law at best.
Legal reservation gambling in AZ
There are Indian casinos across twenty-eight of the states, but rarely elsewhere are there such well developed and significant venues to be found as those which occupy Arizona. These impressive casinos really are your one stop shops for all things gambling.
Perhaps of more immediate use, here is an up-to-date guide to poker tournaments across the reservation casinos , listing venues, buy-ins, starting stacks and game formats. If you’re more interested in the roulette and blackjack tables or the slots, you can take a look through a full list of the state’s licensed tribal casinos here , with links to all their websites.
Of the more than twenty licensed casinos across the state, Casino Arizona , located at Indian Bend, is widely regard as the best venue for poker in Arizona, and features automatic shuffling machines, flat screen TVs for players to watch sports on mid-game, and over fifty dedicated poker tables.
Gambling busts and indictments within Arizona
Arizona has been stage to a number of pretty high profile gambling busts over recent years, including a number of arrests related to online gambling.
A former employee of Casino Arizona faced counts of embezzlement in 2012 after allegedly defrauding the casino for over $25,000 . He had been working with his girlfriend to falsify accounts of how much she had wagered in the venue, in order to turn a hefty profit.
A twoplustwo thread  from 2011 – 2012 covers some interesting ground discussing the busts of grey market strip mall poker rooms. Some members comment on not feeling particularly safe in certain venues, as well.
The big stories in the state, curiously, surround online gambling rings and cyber cafes.
In 2007, the Arizona Attorney General froze 120 bank accounts as part of a crackdown on an international gambling ring using internet betting sites. 44 search warrants were served, and many arrests made in this major bust .
A few years on, an online sports betting ring  allegedly worth over $150 million was busted operating across New York, Louisiana, Arizona and Arizona. Arrests were made of both bookies and agents of the ring.
Cyber cafes have continued to spring up and be shut down across the state for the last ten years, typically offering online casino or poker gambling. The Jackpot Café in Glendale was busted and over $90,000 and 40 computers seized in October of 2012.
Most recently, amusement machines were found offering prizes far in excess of the $4 rule, such as iPads and flat-screen TVs. These twenty-four machines were seized across the state in a range of locations during May 2013, with investigations pending arrests still ongoing.
As for you players with the itch for a bit of online wagering, few outs yet exist for you. There is no online gambling licensed under Arizona State law, and anything done off-state or offshore is likely still illegal, though the strength of the law is mostly directed at those promoting, hosting or booking action on online wagers.
In an academic sense you’re probably at least marginally better off in legal terms if logging on to an online casino or poker room while on reservation land, but it’s far from clear whether even this would really be considered legal.
Off reservation, your options range from the state lottery, and various forms of regulated bingo, raffle and amusement machine, to mostly track-based horse and dog racing featuring pari-mutuel wagers. You can also attend charitable and within-the-letter-of-the-law liquor venue poker games, cruise the dubious but enticing region of gaming known as the grey market, whose games run across the strip malls of the state, or you might want to just keep it simple and partake in social home games with buddies and maybe share a keg.
On the reservations, most anything goes within licensed casinos. Play the slot machines, hit the game tables, play some bingo, keno, poker, blackjack, pai gow, you name it. The venues may be a little smaller than their Las Vegas counterparts, but little else substantial differs, and these mini giants surely dominate Arizona’s ever expanding gambling skyline.