Economy takes toll on Arizona's tribal gaming - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Economy takes toll on Arizona's tribal gaming

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Posted: Monday, August 2, 2010 4:45 pm | Updated: 2:22 pm, Wed Aug 4, 2010.

The soft economy continues to take its toll on tribal gaming revenues.

New figures Monday from the Arizona Department of Gaming show that the state's share of tribal revenues was $22.8 million. That is a 3 percent decrease from the same quarter a year earlier.

That continues a decline that goes back to 2007 when the state's economy went south.

There is a bit of good news in the numbers: The slide has slowed. The 2009 revenue sharing numbers for the second quarter were down 9.4 percent from the year before.

The numbers reflect the required percentage of the "net win" for all 22 casinos in the state that Indian tribes are contractually obligated to share. That is what is left after gamblers collect their winnings, but before other expenses.

Actual tribal gambling figures are not public, making the revenue-sharing numbers one of the best indicators of trends in legal gambling.

Mark Brnovich, director of the Arizona Department of Gaming, said the continued slip in revenue sharing, while slowing, is not a surprise.

"Like any other industry, tribal gaming is not immune to the recession and its impact," he said.

That's also the assessment of Sheila Morago, director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association.

"You just have to remember, again, this is disposable income," she said. "People aren't going to start letting go of that until they feel comfortable."

Despite the continued decline, Morago said Arizona tribes are not doing as poorly as some other states with similar gaming laws.

"I don't want to get too positive until I see a really good upswing," she said. "But the fact that we are just showing small decreases year over year is a good thing."

The decline in what people are wagering at Indian casinos affects more than the tribes. It also means a drop in the amount of money they share with the state as part of a plan approved by voters in 2002 to give tribes exclusive rights to operate casinos.

That measure requires tribes to share 1 percent of the first $25 million of "net win" each year. 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 $22.8 million for the latest quarter goes for education, with nearly $6 million for trauma and emergency services. The Wildlife Conservation Fund and the State Tourism Fund each get $1.6 million, with about $457,000 earmarked for helping people with gambling addiction.

In addition, the Gaming Department keeps nearly $2.1 million for its expenses in regulating the tribal casinos.

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