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Casinos’ funds to Az dipping

Citizen Staff Writer



The economic turmoil has hit the pipeline that sends Arizona Indian casino money to the state coffers, with a a double-digit drop in revenues.

The 15 gaming tribes sent 16.1 percent less in revenue sharing to the Arizona Department of Gaming for the quarter ending Dec. 31 compared to the previous year, the department reported Wednesday.

The state received $12.8 million, a drop from $15.2 million for the October to December quarter in 2007.

The fourth-quarter drop in revenue sharing was the fourth consecutive decline in revenue. The money is distributed to trauma centers, school districts, tourism authorities and wildlife programs statewide.

In 2008, quarterly declines increased year over year, of 0.8 percent, 7.5 percent, 9.5 percent and 16 percent, according to gaming department statistics.

The drop in gambling amounted to a $7.3 million decline for 2008 in funds allocated to the above entities as well as the state’s problem gambling program and the Gaming Department. The casinos shared $88.2 million with the state in 2008, down from $95.5 million in 2007, statistics show.

The tribes have sent $483 million to the state since the Arizona Tribal-State Gaming Compact was put in place in 2003. The compact allowed tribes to add blackjack tables and more slot machines in exchange for opening casino books to state audits and sharing 1 percent to 8 percent of their gambling revenues.

Revenue sharing had never had year-to-year quarterly declines before 2008.

“It is definitely not a surprise that we’ve dropped again,” said Sheila Morago, executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association. “But the state still got $12.8 million (for the quarter), which is not bad.”

Morago said casinos are getting hit with the economic woes like all sectors, but the casinos continue to draw gamblers.

“Everybody is doing fine,” she said. “If you notice, we’re not laying anyone off. We’re hiring.”

The Tohono O’odham Nation’s two Desert Diamond Casinos were on hand Tuesday at the Jobing.com Career Expo at the Tucson Convention Center.

The Desert Diamonds are experiencing declines like the rest of the business world, but the decreases are much lower thanks to the popularity of the new Desert Diamond and accompanying 148-room hotel on Nogales Highway that opened in October 2007, said Scott Sirois, chief executive of Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise.

The new 150,000-square-foot casino replaced a 60,000-square-foot tent gambling area.

“We got exceedingly luck to open that facility,” Sirois said. “It literally raised the bar of hospitality in southern Arizona.”

Casino del Sol and Casino of the Sun are not in the hiring mode, and slot machines have been adjusted to give better payouts, said Wendell Long, chief executive of the Pascua Yaqui Gaming Enterprise Division.

“Personally, what really scares me is we have no idea what’s going to happen,” Long said. “The people who come to our casinos are the average Joes. If they don’t have jobs, they won’t come.”


The Arizona Department of Gaming distributed tribal casino revenue sharing funds for October through December as follows:

• $1.4 million stayed with the Gaming Department to cover administrative and regulatory expenses.

• $255,275 went for problem-gambling education, treatment and prevention.

• $6.2 million went to the instructional-improvement fund for schools.

• $3.1 million went to the trauma and emergency services fund.

• $889,220 went to the Arizona wildlife conservation fund.

• $889,220 went to the tourism fund.

Source: Arizona Department of Gaming

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