Gov. Doug Ducey strikes deal to reopen Arizona tribal gaming compacts
Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday signed an agreement with 10 Arizona Indian tribes to renegotiate the gaming compacts approved by voters in 2002 and potentially resolve the dispute over the Tohono O’odham Nation's West Valley casino.
The initial deal amends the compacts to increase the number of specific games at Indian casinos, while restricting further expansion of gambling in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
In exchange, the Governor's Office will engage in talks, possibly as soon as before the end of the year, to alter the compacts to reflect changes in the Arizona gaming market as well as evolving technology and new games. That negotiation could result in additional revenue to the state, although the developments were cast Monday as way to update and improve the voter-endorsed compact between the state and 17 tribes created via Proposition 202.
Ducey said tribal gaming has flourished in Arizona, "creating 15,000 jobs and driving significant economic development and opportunity, much to the benefit of Arizona health care and education." But, he added, confidence needs to be restored in the state-tribal compact, which is required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to allow Class III gaming facilities, which in Arizona include slot machines, blackjack and house-banked poker.
"Unfortunately, there have been some challenges with the agreement, but, today, by working together in good faith, we've generated a new path forward for the future of tribal gaming in Arizona," Ducey said at a signing ceremony inside the state Capitol's old Senate building, where he was joined by representatives from nine of the 10 tribes. "It's time for us to modernize this compact, to meet the changing needs of the state and to increase the opportunities for tribal gaming.
"It's a view that's been expressed by tribal leaders over the years, and I agree," Ducey continued. "The time has come to allow each tribe more freedom in their gaming operations and give every nation the opportunity to have a seat at the table."
Under the terms of the amendments unveiled by Ducey, the number of keno games per casino can increase from two to four.
The number of poker tables at casinos within 40 miles of a city with a population of more than 400,000 — meaning Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa — can increase from 100 to 105.
It also restricts gaming within the greater Phoenix metro area to land that each of the tribes held in trust on or before Feb. 5, 2003.
The controversial Tohono O'odham Nation's Glendale-area casino, the source of the recent "challenges" alluded to by Ducey, would be exempted.
The southern Arizona tribe's $200 million West Valley casino has been a source of contention and litigation because the state and other tribes considered the opening of another Phoenix metro casino a violation of Proposition 202.
"We think we can do this to the benefit of Arizona, to education, to heath care and to the tribal nations as well," Ducey told reporters later.
The Tohono O’odham Nation issued a statement Monday in which it said it "was made aware of the state’s request for compact amendments just last week and has not been a part of this process."
However, the statement added that the nation "stands ready to consider compact amendment language that would resolve the outstanding litigation, including the Class III issue at its West Valley facility, and includes language regarding no new casinos in the Phoenix area during the current compact."
Kirk Adams, Ducey's chief of staff, said Tohono O'odham representatives were part of discussions from January to September, when they bowed out. But the deal, he said, would still allow the tribe to settle the dispute over its Desert Diamond Casino West Valley's ability to operate as a Class III gaming facility.
"They're invited to be a part of this as well, and we're hopeful that they will," Ducey said.
U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans, praised Ducey for his work on the issue.
“We applaud Governor Ducey for his leadership in developing a state-tribal resolution to the Glendale casino issue," McCain and Flake said in a joint written statement. "We have long opposed the air-dropping of Indian casinos on land that is not contiguous to an existing Indian reservation. The controversy involving the Tohono O'odham gaming facility in Glendale has divided Arizona's Indian tribes for years, and we hope this agreement will heal those divisions and eliminate the need for federal legislation.”
Other tribes who participated in the deal praised the development.
Gov. Stephen R. Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community called it "a significant step" for the tribes "who have stood by the promise we all made in 2002 not to open any additional casinos in the metropolitan Phoenix area.“
"Because these tribes have been trusted allies with the state, we will now have the opportunity to see a substantial return for having kept our promise to Arizona’s voters and leaders," Lewis said.
Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation president, said the compact needs to be updated to allow tribal casinos to compete with state-of-the-art gaming machines used in Las Vegas and Laughlin.
"Modernizing Indian gaming is about keeping Arizona money in Arizona," Begaye said. "That's what it's all about. It's to keep the customers right here. Keep the money here. Don't let it go to Las Vegas or to Nevada. Keep Arizona money right here so that it can be used to address the needs that it was set aside for."
Begaye noted that Indian gaming proceeds help fund education, tourism and other state priorities.
Chuck Essigs, the Arizona Association of School Business Officials' director of governmental relations, said the portion of gaming revenue that goes to K-12 education totals about $50 per student or $50 million or more statewide.
"If, in negotiating the compacts, it does increase the monies coming in from the gaming operations, then we would hope that a proportionate share of that would go to education," he said.