Arizona Poker & Online Gambling Laws

By size alone, Arizona is the sixth largest state in the USA. Its population of 6,626,000 makes it the fifteenth most populated state and, of particular relevance to gambling in Arizona, one-quarter of the state is comprised of Indian reservations.

Previously owned by the Spanish and the Mexicans, Arizona joined the Union on Valentine´s day in 1912, after revising its constitution to get the agreement of President William Taft. There was no mention of gambling in Arizona´s constitution (unlike many of its neighboring states), and the situation regarding gambling in Arizona has remained pretty vague ever since.

A study of the Arizona Division of Gaming Statutes and the Criminal Code of Arizona implies that gambling for recreational purposes is okay – with the Arizona Division of Gaming stating that all gambling is illegal unless explicitly excluded from illegality [1], and the Arizona Criminal Code excluding amusement gambling and social gambling from the legislation [2].

Can I Play Online Poker for Real Money in Arizona?

Undoubtedly yes. The only legislation which criminalizes online poker in Arizona relates to promoters of gambling [3] and those who benefit from it in the form of charging a fee (rake) to play the game, charge an admission fee, or profit from selling food and drink at a live poker venue [4].

Even exceptions to these rules exist for Indian tribal casinos – who can offer live games of poker – and the only ever successful prosecution of a poker beneficiary came in 2012, when former Justice of the Peace Harold “Bud” Lee was found guilty of profiting from a membership fee he charged players to belong to his Club Royale in Tucson. He was sentenced to one year´s unsupervised probation [5].

Consequently, provided that you play sites that offer real money online poker operating from outside of Arizona, there is no risk of being arrested for playing online poker for real money in Arizona or having your bankroll confiscated. The authorities may have something to say about it if you are aged under twenty-one years (the minimum age for gambling in Arizona), but then shouldn´t you be at school anyway?

Is it Legal to Play Poker Everywhere in Arizona?

As mentioned above, Indian tribal casinos can offer cash games of poker and host poker tournaments, and currently fifteen tribes operate twenty-two “Class III” casinos throughout Arizona [6]. There is also a proliferation of unregulated poker clubs [7], which are publicly promoted and to which law enforcement authorities tend to turn a blind eye – with the exception of Bud Lee´s indictment in 2012 (above).

Elsewhere in Arizona, it is perfectly acceptable to play home games of poker, six different state lotteries and two national lotteries, and to bet on the greyhounds or the horses (strangely a horserace meeting cannot be held on the same day as a greyhound meeting in the same county). The tribal casinos also offer slot machines, keno, bingo and blackjack in addition to poker.

Poker in Arizona – both live and online – has a staunch supporter in Senator Jon Kyl, who with Nevada Senator Harry Reid, co-authored a proposed federal online poker bill [8] which sadly failed to pass congress. Unfortunately Kyl announced his retirement in January 2013 and, as yet, nobody has taken up the mantle of introducing new legislation, either federal or in Arizona.

The History of Gambling Legislation in Arizona

There is not a great deal of history related to gambling legislation in Arizona and consequently no recorded court cases in which the legislation was challenged. It would be fair to say that Arizona has a pretty laid back attitude towards gambling legislation and, other than having laws designed to prohibit organized underground gambling, the state appears to be relatively relaxed about gambling in general.

1924: The first attempt to regulate on course pari-mutuel betting for horseracing fails. The Depression and Second World War thwart future attempts to create a horseracing licensing authority for a further twenty-five years.

1940: A proposal to authorize all forms of gambling and charge a license fee fails. Further unsuccessful attempts to pass similar gambling legislation were made in 1950 and 1970, when the first proposals for a state-wide sweepstakes lottery were introduced [9].

1949: The Arizona Racing Commission was established to oversee horseracing, greyhound racing and pari-mutuel wagering. In December 2004, the Arizona Racing Commission joined the National Racing Compact to allow the State´s horses to compete in neighboring jurisdictions.

1980: Voters pass a referendum approving the Arizona Lottery – the first state west of the Mississippi to run a state lottery. Tickets are on sale within a few months, and further referendums in 1997 and 2002 support the continuation of the lottery with increased majorities [10].

1988:The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 [11] enables tribal Indians to open casinos on their own lands. In 1993 state/tribal compacts took effect in Arizona, opening the door for Class III gaming on compacted tribal lands.

The Current Situation Regarding Online Poker in Arizona

Since 1988 there seems to have been very little momentum to forward legislation in Arizona either for or against online poker. It would help matters if there was a clear statement about the legality of online poker from one of Arizona´s legislative authorities; but quite possibly they were waiting to see how Senator Kyl´s federal proposal progressed before committing to a state-wide initiative.

There is no doubt that live poker is continuing to prosper in Arizona – witnessed by the $1 million guaranteed prize money offered for the Arizona State Poker Championship hosted at the Talking Stick Resort each year – and the popularity of real money live poker is reflected by the interest in online poker in Arizona. Consequently, as far as we can see, the current situation regarding online poker in Arizona is that there are no rules banning it, or penalties for playing poker online.

Poker´s Big Winners from Arizona

The live poker all-time money list is peppered with players from Arizona – fourteen of whom have won more than $1 million playing poker [12]. Without doubt the most successful player in terms of money won is Jake Balsiger. Balsiger finished third in the 2012 WSOP Main Event for $3.8 million, and then followed up that achievement by finishing third in the Aussie Millions Main Event in 2014 for a further $568,000.

In terms of winners, David “OBD” Baker has a WSOP bracelet from 2012 and over $3 million in career winnings, while Jim Bechtel has a career spanning back more than three decades which includes a WSOP Main Event victory (in 1993 – when only 220 players took part!) and twenty-four other WSOP cashes for a grand total in excess of $2.5 million.

The Chances for Arizona Online Poker being Regulated in the Future

The Grand Canyon state has always been forward-thinking in its approach to the Internet (Arizona was the first state that allowed online voting), and the state´s relaxed approach to its gambling laws and their enforcement, plus the current tolerance of live and online poker in Arizona, would imply that there are only benefits to be gained by regulation.

Certainly the population of Arizona is large enough to support an online poker community, and the state´s proximity to Nevada and California offers the option of online poker compacts with its immediate neighbors. Consequently, we would expect the regulation of online poker in Arizona to happen sooner rather than later.


[1] Arizona Division of Gaming – Gaming Statutes

[2] Arizona Criminal Code – § 13-3302

[3] Arizona Criminal Code – § 13-3303

[4] Arizona Criminal Code – § 13-3304

[5] PhoenixNewTimes – Harold Lee Convicted of Three Felonies

[6] Arizona Gaming Summary, University of Nevada

[7] Listing of Phoenix Poker Clubs

[8] Reid/Kyl Bill Would Legalize Online Poker at Federal Level

[9] History of State-wide Initiatives

[10] Wikipedia – Arizona Lottery

[11] Indian Gaming Regulatory Act 1988

[12] Hendon Mob Database – Arizona all-time money list