The money represents strong performance in the gaming industry on Navajo land and a restructuring of the loans that funded the tribe's debut into Indian gaming more than three years ago.
The Nation took out four separate loans to fund its casinos, said Phefelia Bradley, government affairs manager for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise. The enterprise oversees gaming on Navajo land and the development of casinos.
"Rather than pay four different loan payments, we restructured the loans to have only one payment," Bradley said. "Based on the restructuring, the interest rate was reduced and we were able to come up with an amount that we can pay back to the Nation."
The $5 million check is the first payout from the gaming enterprise.
"We are still paying back the loans, but this is the first payment we've been able to give back into the distribution fund," Bradley said.
The contribution comes three and a half years after the tribe opened its first gaming facility. Fire Rock Navajo Casino, located along the historic Route 66 in Church Rock, opened its doors in November 2008.
Two additional casinos followed, both in San Juan County. The tribe opened Flowing Water Navajo Casino in Hogback in October 2010 and Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Upper Fruitland in January.
Construction is under way on a fourth casino, Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, located in Leupp, Ariz., near Flagstaff.
When the gaming initiative was started, the Nation had to approve a revenue distribution plan, said LoRenzo Bates, chairman of the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee.
"The Nation decided not to do per capita payments, but to do a distribution plan," he said. "As a result of those terms, it frees up dollars that can be contributed back to the Navajo Nation.
That money does not go into the Nation's general fund, Bates said. It likely will be distributed to individual chapters as needed, and will be used for infrastructure, housing, education and economic development, among other things.
The 24-member Navajo Nation Council is tasked with deciding how the money is spent, Bradley said. The Council cannot approve per capita payments so none of the money will go to individuals.
According to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, signed by Congress in 1988 to regulate gaming on Indian lands, gaming revenues can only be used for specific purposes, including:
¥ funding tribal government operations or programs
¥ providing for the general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members
¥ promoting tribal economic development
¥ donating to charitable organizations
¥ helping fund operations of local government agencies
A press conference to announce the $5 million contribution to the Navajo Nation starts at 9 a.m. today at the Quality Inn in Window Rock, Ariz. Navajo President Ben Shelly, Navajo Council Speaker Johnny Naize and Gaming Enterprise Chairman Quincy Natay will speak.