As a 25-year veteran of the gaming industry, I’ve seen how racinos alter the course of gaming and gaming regulation within a state. Although I have yet to see a bill this year that would allow race tracks to add slot machines and table games, my greatest concern is the ripple effect that will occur in the wake of such legislation.
Any law allowing racinos will permanently change the face of Arizona, opening the floodgates to much more gambling activity. History shows that once a legislature moves away from gaming for governmental purposes to for-profit commercial gaming, that same legislature is hard-pressed to contain gaming to just one sector.
If you doubt this, I direct you to comments in the media from Arizona Licensed Beverage Association President Bill Weigele. His association is against racinos, but he has made it absolutely clear that members of his industry – establishments with liquor licenses – want gambling devices in their establishments if racinos are approved in our state.
Gambling in Arizona could spread to bars, restaurants and even convenience stores as it has in Louisiana and West Virginia, according to research from Katherine Spilde, Ph.D., senior research associate for the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. To take this one step further, what will stop hotels and resorts from also wanting to be part of the gambling action?
At a time when legislators are already cutting hundreds of millions from the state budget, allowing racinos could also cost the cash-strapped state.
If racinos are allowed, tribal governments that operate casinos would no longer be required to share with the state the same portion of revenue as agreed upon in the tribal-state compact. The compact dictates tribes share between 1 percent and 8 percent of gross revenues with the state and local governments. Since 2003, when the tribal-state compacts took effect, tribes have contributed more than $650 million, according to the Arizona Department of Gaming. If racinos are allowed, tribes’ required contribution would drop to a flat three-quarters of 1 percent.
This would mean an immediate loss of hundreds of millions of dollars each year, which would be deeply felt in classrooms and trauma centers that depend on state revenue. In a time when budgetary concerns are at an all-time high and services are at risk of being reduced or eliminated, I would hate to see this loss of revenue occur.
The current system of tribal gaming benefits many sectors that are important to everyone, including schools, tourism and wildlife conservation. Arizona’s tribes are considered a national model for tribal-government gaming. Our industry also contributes thousands of much-needed jobs to tribal and non-Indian employees.
The positive benefit of tribal gaming is felt by the state of Arizona, all of its tribes and all of its residents. There is too much at risk to allow racinos and the subsequent dramatic change in the scope of gaming in Arizona.
— Valerie Spicer is deputy director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association.