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New compacts bring more than sports wagering

 

Surrounded by legislators, Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday explains how he believes the benefits of the new tribal gaming compacts being signed outweigh any drawbacks. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Surrounded by legislators, Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday explains how he believes the benefits of the new tribal gaming compacts being signed outweigh any drawbacks. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Arizona tribes are going to get at least four new casinos – and possibly more – along with more slot machines, more games of chance and the right to take wagers on a whole new category of sporting events. 

The compacts signed April 15 by tribal leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey show there could be at least an additional nearly 6,300 video gaming terminals allowed in the state. That is on top of the 13,640 the state Gaming Department says are in operation. 

And that’s on top of close to 25,000 that already are authorized, with the balance not yet in use. 

That’s just the beginning. 

The deal allows for an automatic increase every two years of another approximately 570 devices. And the tribes that cannot use them, whether due to lack of need or they are too remote to attract gamblers, can make money by transferring them to casinos in more urban areas 

On top of that, there could be thousands of additional tables for blackjack and poker. 

And now the tribes also will be able to offer new games like craps, roulette and baccarat. They even can offer sic bo, a game of chance with three dice, as well as a version of pai gow played with cards. 

Stephen Rae Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community, discusses Thursday some of the hurdles that had to be overcome before his tribe and others would agree to new gaming compacts with the state. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Stephen Rae Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community, discusses Thursday some of the hurdles that had to be overcome before his tribe and others would agree to new gaming compacts with the state. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Finally – and potentially most significantly – the tribes will be able to take bets on sporting events and fantasy sports. 

What the state is getting in return is a share of the profits. 

For the most recent fiscal year the tribes reported gross gaming revenues of more than $2 billion. That’s the difference between gaming wins and losses, but before deducting costs and expenses. 

Of that, they contributed $102 million to the state. Half goes to education, a quarter to trauma and emergency services, and the balance split among wildlife conservation and tourism. 

There are no estimates of how much that might increase with all the new forms of gaming and the new casinos and machines. 

But the state is getting something else in the deal: the same right as tribes to conduct wagering on sporting events and fantasy sports. 

Such off-reservation gaming is precluded under the terms of the existing pact approved by voters in 2002. Supporters said the state’s share of this could generate more than $100 million a year. 

Aides to the governor promised that, unlike the deal struck two decades ago, this one has no surprises about where new casinos can pop up. 

That 2002 deal was sold to voters with the promise that all casinos would be on reservation lands and there would be no new casinos in the Phoenix area. 

But a provision buried in that deal actually allowed the Tohono O’odham Nation, which has two full-blown casinos in Pima County, to build on land it bought near Glendale. One of those, near the Arizona Cardinals stadium, already is operating; the new deal clears the way for a new one near Loop 303 and Northern Parkway. 

The new pact also permits the Gila River Indian Community to open a fourth casino on reservation lands. And it paves the way for one new casino operated by the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community and another on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, but only if both tribes agree. 

And there will be a new casino in Tucson. 

The new pact confirms that the Pascua Yaqui tribe is being allowed to construct what would be its third casino, this one in the area east of Interstate 10 and south of West Grant Road. That first requires the land to be acquired in trust for the tribe and an act of Congress to make it eligible for gaming. 

It’s not just new video machines that will create more opportunities for people to win – or lose – money. 

The deal provides for each tribal casino to have at least 100 table games, whether for blackjack or poker – more in urban areas. That is a significant change: The Gaming Department reports that all 24 casinos together have a total of just 288 blackjack tables and 144 poker tables. 

What Ducey and tribal leaders inked April 15 is a long way from the first days of tribal gaming in 1991 when Linda Akers, then the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, sent FBI agents to five tribes to seize hundreds of gaming machines. She said the lack of a compact with the state made their activities illegal. 

Fife Symington, governor at the time, was originally opposed to tribal gaming. But he eventually negotiated the legally necessary compacts. 

In 2001, however, a federal judge concluded that slot machines, blackjack games and keno contests are illegal in Arizona, even for charities. That led to a measure being approved by voters in 2002 to specifically allow tribal gaming. 

In it, tribes offered the state a share of the profits. In exchange the tribes would have the exclusive right to operate casino gaming, though certain forms of charity gambling would be allowed. 

It was that election where Jane Hull, then governor, assured voters that the deal would not result in any new casinos in the Phoenix area. 

It was only later discovered that a provision had been inserted allowing new casinos on any property a tribe acquired as a result of settling a claim with the federal government. And that applied solely to the Tohono O’odham Nation, which had been compensated after a federal dam project flooded tribal property near Gila Bend. 

Years of litigation involving the state and the city of Glendale all ended in favor of the tribe. And the city eventually cut a financial deal with the tribe, dropping its legal disputes in exchange for $25 million over the next two decades. 

A similar deal was struck between the tribe and Glendale to clear the way for that new casino near Loop 303. 

City officials said it includes a one-time $400,000 payment this year. Then, once gaming starts, the tribe will provide $1 million a year for 20 years, with an annual escalator of 2%. 

  

  

 

 

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