Native American nations, Arizona sign new gaming compact

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signs a memorandum of agreement to increase gaming in Arizona on tribal lands on Nov. 21, 2016. (Photo by Brian Fore/Cronkite News)

Eight Arizona tribal leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday signed an agreement regarding a 14-year-old gaming compact.

The new agreement allows Native American nations in Arizona to renegotiate their current agreements to expand gaming on tribal lands within the state of Arizona while restricting gaming facility construction within the Phoenix metro area.

“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,” Ducey said.

Cronkite News video by Brian Fore

Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, said in his keynote speech that the new compact signing benefits everyone, not just Native Americans.

In an interview with Cronkite News after the compact signing, Begaye said Native American gaming revenue contributes around $100 million yearly to the state. The funds, he said, benefit Arizona teachers, trauma centers and tourism.

Cronkite News video by Brian Fore

Currently the Navajo Nation has one casino in Arizona, and Begaye could not provide information on how much money that casino will earn or give back to tribal members as a result of new gaming agreements. But he said Navajo casinos in New Mexico and Arizona provide $5 million annually to the Navajo Nation, and he said that number will increase with modernized casino agreements.

Begaye said the Navajo Nation led the efforts to pursue the new gaming compact, as they saw this new agreement as an opportunity to modernize the regulation of their casinos.

He said the current compact allows for certain games to be played on the casino floor, excluding table games, like card games, which can bring in more revenue than other casino games.

The table games would draw more people, Begaye said, and drive an increase in revenue in Navajo Nation casinos.

Currently, Begaye said Arizonans often visit casinos in cities like Las Vegas to play table games instead of providing that revenue to casinos within the state.

This agreement towards expanding Native American gaming, Begaye said, “is about keeping Arizona money in Arizona.”

Casinos have created over 1,000 jobs in Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona, Begaye said, and part of the revenue from the industry is given to Navajo chapters within the nation.

Begaye said Navajo Nation chapters most commonly use these funds to support services for elders, veterans and children.