Tribal gaming revenue shows Arizonans willing to gamble more money - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Tribal gaming revenue shows Arizonans willing to gamble more money

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Posted: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 3:43 pm | Updated: 3:06 pm, Thu Feb 3, 2011.

If the amount of money Arizonans are willing to gamble is any indication, the state's economy is on the upswing.

Or at least people believe it is.

New figures Wednesday from the Arizona Department of Gaming show that tribal casinos provided nearly $11.3 million in revenue sharing with the state for the last three months of 2010. That is a slight increase - about 1.6 percent - from the same period a year earlier.

But it compares with $12.8 million for the same three months in 2008 - and $15.2 million the year before that.

The actual amount of money that people gamble at tribal casinos is not public. That is part of the deal the tribes cut with the state in 2002 to give them the exclusive right to operate casinos.

In exchange, though, they provide the state a share of the revenues. And those figures, provided quarterly, are public.

Sheila Morago, executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association, said she sees the new numbers as a good sign - and not just for the tribes.

"I'm thinking that everybody's disposable income has become a little bit more disposable," she said.

Morago said people cut back on non-essentials when they are concerned about their finances.

At or near the top of the list, she said, is entertainment. And Morago said gambling fits in the same category as things like taking in movies or even just going to a restaurant.

And while the state's unemployment rate remains at 9.4 percent, Morago said Arizonans - at least those with jobs - apparently believe the worst may be over and they can release their grip on their purses and wallets.

"I'm not an economist so I can't tell you what it is they're thinking," she said. "But for me, personally, I'm feeling a little bit better about things. So instead of holding on to every dime I have, I'm starting to go out to eat a little bit more, going out to movies and doing the things we used to do for entertainment."

What's happening at tribal casinos is not unique.

The Arizona Lottery reported total sales for the last six months of 2010 at nearly $269.2 million. That is a 4.9 percent increase from the same period in 2009.

Karen Emery, the agency's deputy director for policy, conceded some of that may be related to special promotions, like the Millionaire Raffle that went on sale in November.

But she pointed out that just the sale of the basic "scratcher" tickets also is up - sharply - between the end of 2009 and the same period last year.

Under the deal with the tribes, they share 1 percent of the first $25 million in "net win" each year. That is what is left after gamblers collect their winnings but before other expenses.

Arizona gets 3 percent of the next $50 million, 6 percent of the next $25 million and 8 percent of anything more than $100 million a year.

Half of that nearly $11.3 million in revenue sharing collected during the last three months of 2010 goes to education. Another $2.5 million is earmarked for emergency and trauma services, with the state tourism fund and the wildlife conservation fund each getting almost $728,000.

The Department of Gaming also gets to keep almost $2 million for its regulatory costs.

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