Mixed blessings in casino payouts - East Valley Tribune: News

Mixed blessings in casino payouts

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Posted: Monday, November 15, 2004 5:16 am | Updated: 4:45 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The Gila River Indian Community gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Arizona towns, cities and counties this year as part of the grant payouts now required by all tribes with casinos.

The replica of Zane Grey’s cabin under construction near Payson received $50,000. A $1 million grant will help fund an exhibit at Phoenix’s Heard Museum. Avondale received $117,000 for courtroom video equipment.

Chandler, a city that borders the Indian community, got nothing.

The grant scheme became part of the new gaming compacts early last year, after voters approved Proposition 202. The 23-year agreements allowed casinos to install more slot machines and add Las Vegas-style blackjack in return for giving the rest of the state a slice of the profits each year.

Of that slice, 12 percent must go directly to towns, cities and counties. The Indian communities have the sole power to decide who gets what. The state gets the remaining the 88 percent of the total cut, which is derived from a formula.

The arrangement has put a new priority on relationships between cities and Indian communities, officials said.

"It’s time to go make new friends. The 12 percent has changed the paradigm, changed the relationship," said Christa Severns, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Gaming. "Many communities are just now waking up to that, finding out to whom they need to talk."

Severns said the direct payments to cities must be doled out within 25 days after the end of each Indian community’s fiscal year. Many, including the Gila River community, end their fiscal years on Oct. 30. There were $2.5 million in "12 percent" funds in its 2003 fiscal year, which ended June 30, she said.

"All the tribes are following the 12 percent requirement," Severns said. "Each tribe does it differently, which makes it a project for those looking for funds."

Chandler applied to the Gila River community for funds for a fire vehicle and smoke detectors for public housing, officials said.

"I don’t feel left out," said Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn. "What I find exciting is the fact that this (the grant program) allows that greater tie with a very important neighbor."

The grant money is helping many other cities in the state. The five-member Gila River tribal council decided to pay for public safety upgrades, boost tourism and fund other programs, said the tribe’s spokesman, Gary Bohnee.

Gila River’s money is buying thermal imaging cameras for the Guadalupe Fire Department, a mobile air quality lab for Pinal County, and many other items and projects that will benefit Arizona communities, Bohnee said. The $1 million grant awarded Nov. 5 to Phoenix’s Heard Museum, to paid out over four years, will help fund the $7.6 million exhibit, HOME: Native Peoples in the Southwest, scheduled to open in May 2005.

Some Gila River residents, many of whom live in poverty, have mixed feelings about tribal money being paid to other cities, Bohnee said. But overall the tribe feels the arrangement is a "win-win" situation, he said.

"Three million people in the state will benefit from this agreement," Bohnee said. "The goal of the community is to be a good neighbor and work with communities."

More money will be available in the payout program as tribes achieve their maximum casino expansions. Proposition 202 allows the Gila River community’s three casinos to add 1,020 slot machines, for a total of 2,400, Bohnee said. Only 475 new machines have so far been added, he said.

Scottsdale and Scottsdalerelated organizations received commitments for $595,000 from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, said city spokesman Mike Phillips. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale will get $500,000 of that, paid over four years. The city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, a senior nutritional program and "several other items" round out the total, he said.

Fountain Hills received $60,000 this year from its neighbor, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, said Town Manager Timothy Pickering. Of that, $10,000 bought a squad car for the Fountain Hills Sheriff ’s Posse, and $50,000 went to the town’s tourism bureau.

No other tribes donated 12 percent funds to Fountain Hills this year, Pickering said. A grant application with the nearby Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community that would help build a new Town Hall is still under review, he said.

Pickering said he would rather not discuss the grant.

Beneficiaries of Gila River gaming

The Gila River Indian Community has paid out or pledged $2.5 million in grants under a revenue-sharing scheme outlined in the voter-approved Proposition 202. Here is a list of grant recipients as of Nov. 12:

• Buckeye — Equipment for the fire department’s technical rescue team

• Avondale — Courtroom video equipment

• Guadalupe — Thermal imaging cameras for firefighters

• Maricopa — Funding to help build a town health clinic

• Pinal County — Purchase of an animal control vehicle and a mobile air quality lab

• Coolidge — East Side Park Project, KTC and Success Center Programming, enhancing senior services, funding for fire department

• Phoenix — Tribal outreach, Heard Museum exhibit

• Maricopa County, Sun Lakes — Fire District command response vehicle

• Peoria — Crisis negotiations command trailer

• Payson — Assisting in the Zane Grey cabin replication

Source: Gila River Indian Community

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