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Arizona Indian Gaming Impact is Mixed

23 September 2001

ARIZONA – Sept. 23, 2001 –As reported by the Arizona Republic: "Legalized gambling has nearly eliminated poverty on a handful of small Indian reservations in Arizona, but has not yet delivered the same benefits to larger tribes, an Arizona Republic analysis of food stamp data has found.

"In the past 10 years, as the Indian gaming industry has grown from small bingo halls to multimillion-dollar casinos, the total rate of food stamp use on Arizona's reservations fell from 23 percent to 18 percent.

"But in places like the Salt River Reservation, poverty persists, even though the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community runs one of the biggest casinos in the state.

"..,`We see some tribes where gaming has made a definite difference,' said J. Kent Hill, a professor of economics at Arizona State University who has reviewed the data. `But in other cases, it doesn't seem to have changed food stamp usage at all.'

"…The rate of food stamp usage, although a useful statistical gauge, provides only a primitive and incomplete snapshot of the total picture of economic health on Indian reservations, Hill and other economists cautioned.

"Other data, such as unemployment and income-level statistics, are needed to make a complete assessment.

"…Although casino gaming is a huge financial engine for 15 of Arizona's 21 tribes, reaping nearly a billion dollars from outside visitors, it is not the only economic activity on the reservations.

"Nor is it the only reason for the decline in overall food stamp usage among Indians.

"Ventures in real estate, ranching and mining, combined with a healthy national economy, have played major roles alongside legalized gambling in generally improving the economic lot on gaming reservations.

"Indian leaders acknowledge that casinos still have not delivered large tribes out of poverty. But they point out that most tribal governments have decided to use gambling revenues to build up their decaying infrastructure that was long neglected by federal and state governments.

"…Gaming revenues have also gone toward the debt on the casino buildings themselves, many of which were financed on less-than-advantageous terms because of the political uncertainty swirling around their future, said John Lewis, executive director of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona…"

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