A new legislative proposal is being introduced to expand gambling in Arizona, despite protests from Native American tribal groups who say it will violate their existing compact with the state. Introduced by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, the bill aims to permit electronic keno games within bars and clubs in the state.
The bill has been modified extensively in response to earlier criticism. In the current version, provisions are limited to keno, eliminating the game of bingo that was previously proposed, under the argument that keno is similar to the lottery which is allowed in the state.
A freshly created State Electronic Keno Commission will monitor the operations of the game. Revenue receipts would be divided between the state general fund, full-day kindergarten and public safety.
The design of some keno machines closely mimics that of video slot machines. Players push a button or a lever to see a set of symbols or numbers but the game actually depends on a random-number generator and a small digital keno card located in the machine. The player wins depending on the results of the card. According to Borelli, the keno machines would be allowed to be placed in similar locations as lottery which includes gas stations, bars and fraternal clubs.
Tribal representatives in the state have expressed concern that the proposal would violate their compact with the state and affect revenue of their casino facilities.
In a statement, Bernadine Burnette, president of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and chairwoman of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association said
Gaming has been one of the very few economic activities that has succeeded in Indian country. It has created tens of thousands of jobs. It has allowed us to provide services to our tribal members that we could never have afforded before
The 2002 compact between the tribes and the state includes a poison pill that states that if the government allows non-tribal bodies to offer casino-style gaming, the tribes need not to abide by the limitations on casinos, machines and card tables mentioned in the compact. Mike Bielecki, a spokesman for the Navajo Nation has stated that the poison pill comes into play when a new game not included in the compact is introduced by the state.
According to Borrelli games like keno and lottery are under the state’s jurisdiction. He has highlighted that revenue from the games could raise $240 million a year for funding full-day kindergarten. The bill which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week will have a public hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the following week.