Navajos and Hopis Tackle Gaming Issues - Again
Both the Navajo and Hopi rely heavily on royalties from coal mines from the Peabody Coal Black Mesa mine in northeastern Arizona. The coal produces power to operate Southern California Edison company’s Mohave Generating Station. There is speculation the station could close by the end of 2005 because of the cost of retrofitting it to meet clean–air standards. Its closure would create an economic crisis for both tribes.
Navajo President Joe Shirley believes his tribe will eventually approve the gambling referendum and if the Mohave Generating Plant should close, the Hopi Tribe stands to lose a third, or 7.7 million, from its annual operating budget.
Vanessa Charles, tribal spokeswoman, stated the Hopis are weighing heavily on the gambling issue. “We have a lot at stake here. We’re trying to build a sustainable homeland for the Hopi people.”
Proposition 202 which state voters passed in 2002, allotted the Navajo the rights to 2,400 slot machines and four casinos and granted the Hopi the rights to 900 machines and three casinos as part of a broader gambling expansion measure for Arizona tribes. The Navajo and Hopi have the option to open casinos or lease their rights to tribes elsewhere here in the state with gaming operations.
The lease option also benefits tribes with gambling operations who need more machines as part of a complex agreement under Prop 202 to carve benefits for all tribes, not just those with casinos close to population centers.
Steve Hart, former director of the Arizona Department of Gaming and now an attorney at Lewis & Roca which focus on tribal governments, stated that it’s hard to predict which direction the tribes will go. Hart said “A number of tribes in rural areas of the state have transferred their machine rights to tribes operating casinos to obtain funds for their governments” Although the Navajo and Hopi Tribes have not, some tribal members are pushing to open gaming operations as tribal budgets tighten up.
While both tribes oppose gambling, pressing economic demands could change the outcome of the referendums. Shirley added, “The vote has been very close. Last time it lost by about 3,000 votes out of 90,000 registered voters. It’s gaining support each time.”
This article has been edited from an April 28th story in The Arizona Republic, bylined John Stearns and Judy Nichols.
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