Over the last decade, the popularity of online poker has risen exponentially. Even after the US passed the UIGEA, ostensibly criminalizing the act of gambling over the internet, online poker remained immensely popular, albeit a little less accessible. For online poker players in Arizona and across the US, April 25, 2011 was a dark day, known throughout the community as the Black Friday of online poker. Low and Behold, in December of that same year, the US Department of Justice suddenly reversed its opinion of internet gambling, giving individual states the right to decide whether certain forms of online wagering should be permitted. And with that, a beam of hope spread as players looked forward to the possibility of new online poker laws in Arizona.
Legality of Online Poker Arizona
Arizona may be home to two dozen land-based gaming facilities state wide, but that doesn’t mean they are keen on the idea of gambling within the state. The fact is, 22 of those establishments are tribal casinos, thus Arizona’s state government has nothing to do with them, and sees no profit from the revenue they produce. The other two are dedicated horse racing tracks, the Turf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix and Yavapai Downs in Prescott Valley. Arizona does offer its citizens a state lottery, which generates extra tax dollars.
Despite the abundance of tribal casinos across The Copper State, the government seems to prefer keeping its hands out of gambling issues as much as possible. In fact, public officials managed to prevent tribal casinos from invading their borders up until the 1990’s, when a huge legal battle burst the state’s anti-gambling fortifications right out of the water, resulting in the mass of tribal casinos found there today.
We know a little about Arizona’s gambling laws in general, but to truly determine the legalities of online poker in Arizona, let’s take a quick look at the state’s gaming statutes. We’ll also discuss whether online poker and other forms of internet gambling may be discussed around the congressional tables anytime in the near future.
Arizona Statutes – Gambling Laws
The Arizona Revised Statutes are fairly simple in regards to what is and is not illegal in terms of gambling in Arizona. The state prohibits all forms of gambling that are not following the tribal compacts of Arizona, conducted in accordance with and under control of the government and its taxation laws and/or is, by definition, ‘social gambling’.
The following definitions are taken directly from the Arizona Revised Statutes – Title 13, Chapter 33.
Gambling/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…
Player: means a natural person who participates in gambling.
Social Gambling: means gambling that is not conducted as a business and that involves players who compete on equal terms with each other in a gamble if all of the following apply:
(a) No player receives, or becomes entitled to receive, any benefit, directly or indirectly, other than the player’s winnings from the gamble.
(b) No other person receives or becomes entitled to receive any benefit, directly or indirectly, from the gambling activity, including benefits of proprietorship, management or unequal advantage or odds in a series of gambles.
(c) …none of the players is under twenty-one years of age.
(d) Players “compete on equal terms with each other in a gamble” when no player enjoys an advantage over any other player in the gamble under the conditions or rules of the game or contest.
There is another interesting definition that we’ll take a closer look at, in part (because it’ very long and only certain parts apply to this document); Amusement Gambling. To cut to the chase, just read the red text.
Amusement Gambling: means gambling involving a device, game or contest which is played for entertainment if all of the following apply:
(a) The player or players actively participate in the game or contest or with the device.
(b) The outcome is not in the control to any material degree of any person other than the player or players.
(c) The prizes are not offered as a lure to separate the player or players from their money.
(d) Any of the following:
(i) No benefit is given to the player or players other than an immediate and unrecorded right to replay which is not exchangeable for value.
(ii) The gambling is an athletic event and no person other than the player or players derives a profit or chance of a profit from the money paid to gamble by the player or players.
(iii) The gambling is an intellectual contest or event, the money paid to gamble is part of an established purchase price for a product, no increment has been added to the price in connection with the gambling event and no drawing or lottery is held to determine the winner or winners.
(iv) Skill and not chance is clearly the predominant factor in the game and the odds of winning the game based upon chance cannot be altered, provided the game complies with any licensing or regulatory requirements by the jurisdiction in which it is operated, no benefit for a single win is given to the player or players other than a merchandise prize which has a wholesale fair market value of less than four (4) dollars or coupons which are redeemable only at the place of play and only for a merchandise prize which has a fair market value of less than four (4) dollars and, regardless of the number of wins, no aggregate of coupons may be redeemed for a merchandise prize with a wholesale fair market value of greater than thirty-five (35) dollars.
I’ve highlighted these particular sections because it does seem feasible that one could bypass the majority of state laws and run a legitimate poker room if the right procedures were followed. The prizes would have to be redeemable vouchers or merchandise with restricted values, but it does seem that, if the proper licensing was received, a state regulated poker room isn’t out of the question for Arizona.
There are plenty more definitions I could list along with these, but they become increasingly less interesting and have little or no impact on the legalities of online poker in Arizona; or lack thereof. If you’d like to read them, please click the link provided at the beginning of this section.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Arizona?
Simply put, no, online poker is not legal in Arizona. If you while away the hours grinding over the text of Arizona’s complete gambling laws, you will find that the majority of them criminalize the operation of unlawful gambling, much more so than the act of committing a gamble. There isn’t a single known case against an Arizona citizen for playing online poker. As such, there are plenty of legitimate offshore poker sites that accept players from Arizona. But the fact remains, the laws are wide open to interpretation, and could easily be viewed as outlawing online poker in Arizona.
For some additional reading on the topic, you may also find this brief study on legal gambling activities in Arizona, conducted by the UNLV Center for Gaming Research, to be rather enlightening.
Is Arizona working to legalize online poker?
Unfortunately, the question of online poker is a dead one in Arizona. The Grand Canyon State has offered no news headlines or controversial debates in regards to internet gambling, and it isn’t one to likely pick up on it in the near future, either. On the other hand, let’s not forget that Arizona’s junior Senator, Jon Kyl, has been working diligently on the passage of federal online poker laws. Thus the possibility of internet card gaming in Arizona’s future is not entirely out of the question. It could just be that Kyl is determined to see federal regulation before he pushes for statewide acceptance.