One of the more unusual state casino venues is in the state of Arizona. According to Arizona law, the only casino construction allowed is that on Indian reservations. However, this is not actually a law but an agreement made between the State and the Indian tribes. Established in the mid 1990’s, the agreement has spawned a number of casinos across the state since that time, and table games were added in the early 2000’s.
Voters rejected the idea of creating state operated casinos apart from the existing Indian casinos, partly because there were enough of them to satisfy the existing demand in the area. While the payouts of Indian casinos tend to be lower than that of privately run casinos, from the perspective of the State the revenue generated from the existing casinos is sufficient to allow them to continue to operate.
Given these facts, how do Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake enter into the picture in which is essentially a state matter? The bill introduced into the federal House of Representatives, HR Bill 1410, is designed to prevent the Tohono O’odham Nation from building a casino on land that is not part of an Indian reservation. So the political loophole seems to be that because it involves the rights of Indian tribes, it becomes a federal issue. Since the federal ruling that each state can decide for itself whether to allow gaming in their own state, the senator’s hands are tied in that regard.
The issue becomes even stranger because the UIGEA of 2006, the “anti-casino” legislation, passed without any debate in the Senate. In other words, there is no record of the actual positions of Senators McCain and Flake on the issue.
Add to this saga the fact that the Glendale City Council recently changed the position it held for many years and now approves construction of the casino. The mayor of Glendale opposes the plan. It is obvious there is no consensus possible given the mix of state, local, and federal politicians involved.
Those who oppose the new casino seem to be concerned about the issue of how far Indian tribes will go to expand their operations. Yet the general public does not seem to have a problem with the 27 existing Indian casinos that have been around for the last two decades, voting to keep the status quo with the Indian tribe agreement. Since the addition of a casino requires the approval of state and local government, that in itself seems adequate to prevent the Tohono O’odham Nation from building casinos willy-nilly.
The House Bill 1410 is summarized as follows: “Keep the Promise Act of 2013 – Prohibits Class II and III gaming on land within the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area that is acquired after April 9, 2013, by the Secretary of the Interior in trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe.” (https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1410/text) The bill would prohibit gaming of any kind on this land until 2027.
This can end up being more of a political debate than an article of gaming interest if we go into the details. What is important is that while the states have the right to determine casino licensing and construction within their own jurisdiction, it is also possible that there are instances when the issue can expand to the federal level. So if a federal law or laws are passed that can directly influence the choice of a state to regulate its own gaming industry, how much freedom do the states have in the future to continue growing their gaming industry, particularly in a state such as New York which has been more than successful in its management of the gaming industry?
Putting together a number of recent news stories about gaming, everything from the deterioration of Atlantic City to the growth or local and state casinos, it appears there is a shake up, or perhaps shake out, that will shape the national gaming industry. Attempting to allow online casinos in states has resulted in technological and banking issues that may take years to resolve. Between the closing of casinos in some states and the political wrangling in others that are attempting to develop a casino industry, the future of state operated casinos is cloudy at the moment. For those of us who look forward to our weekend trips to the local casino, perhaps it is time to start becoming more involved with the issues and let our voices be heard to prevent a return to 2006.