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Indian gaming policy becomes a delicate issue in Tempe

The City of Tempe is attempting to draft an Indian gaming policy that would formalize the process of acquiring grants from Native American communities. (Photo by Jessie Wardarski)
The City of Tempe is attempting to draft an Indian gaming policy that would formalize the process of acquiring grants from Native American communities. (Photo by Jessie Wardarski)

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman chastised city officials at a council meeting Thursday for wording an Indian gaming policy draft in a way that could jeopardize relations between Tempe and surrounding Native American communities.

The drafted policy was an attempt to formalize the process of requesting and distributing gaming grants made by Native American casinos.

“I’ve seen other cities make huge mistakes in their processing because they have some sense they’re in control of this grant process,” Hallman said at the meeting. “A good number of tribes recognize that they are the ones giving out money.”

The danger lies in the attempt to formalize an informal process that is fragile and nuanced, Hallman said.

According to the Indian Gaming Preservation and Self-Reliance Act, passed as Proposition 202 in 2002, each tribe in Arizona must contribute a percentage of its gaming revenue to benefit cities, commonly in the form of Indian gaming grants.

Each Native American tribe must contribute up to 8 percent of the tribe’s gross gaming revenue to the state, according to the Arizona Department of State.

Eighty-eight percent of each tribe’s contribution will go to the Arizona Benefits Fund, used for reimbursement of Arizona Department of Gaming administrative expenses and for statewide tourism promotion.

Twelve percent of the contribution must be used to benefit the communities in nearby cities, commonly in the form of Indian gaming grants.

Each tribe has its own process for distributing Indian Gaming Grants, said Valerie Spicer, executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association.

“They’re all unique,” Spicer said.

An agreement between the tribes and the State of Arizona defines the basic process, she said.

Changes cannot be made to the agreement unless a city has an agreement with the tribe they are receiving grants from, Spicer said.

Tempe works closest with the Indian communities such as the Gila River Indian Community, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

Tempe Assistant City Manager Jeff Kulaga took part in drafting the policy and said casinos have notified Tempe in the past that grants would be processed through the city.

“Once casinos figure out their money in October or November, we’ve been notified that money would come through Tempe,” Kulaga said.

Some tribes choose not to engage with city governments at all, preferring to distribute grants directly, and some accept requests by invitation only, Hallman said.

“Some cities have … tried to set down rules about accepting money and have lost their communication with tribes altogether,” he said.

The Gila River Indian Community processes all grants through its own council and never goes through city officials, said Gabriel Montalbo from the Gila River Indian Community Council Secretary’s office.

“If the city has something that they want to move through council from us, they will be our contact,” Montalbo said. “As far as anything being acted upon, it would be through our council.”

In cases where a tribe does use Tempe as a intermediary, the drafted policy calls for closer scrutiny of charities applying for grants and charities receiving money from tribes.

“If a Native American community chooses a nonprofit that they decided is sufficient for them, on what basis would we want to question that judgment?” Hallman asked.

“We’re talking about international relations here,” he said. “To think a city is going to dictate the rules of engagement of a community that is at a higher level as a state and a nation is foolish.”

Hallman said only policies dictating Tempe’s behavior in initiating a grant request should be implemented.

The city staff members are working on revising the policy in consideration of Hallman’s criticisms, said Amber Wakeman, assistant to the city council.

However, with budget concerns more imminent, the chances of a new draft being presented to city council soon aren’t good, Wakeman said.

“We want to make sure we are being sensitive to these Native American communities and the nonprofit (organizations) in Tempe,” she said.


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