The Legislature is in session, and that means many bills on many topics. Sometimes those include gambling bills. Senate Bill 1163 is one of those, although it is unusual in its approach. The proposal by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, would allow sports betting operated by Indian tribes in bars and service club halls with remote devices.
The Navajo Nation backs the proposal, although other tribes that would benefit are objecting because they say the complex issue needs more discussion. It is difficult to argue with that point.
The tribes and Gov. Doug Ducey are discussing changes to tribal gaming compacts. Those govern the existing reservation casinos, and that is the proper place to air a major expansion of gambling in Arizona.
Borrelli’s bill carves out the Phoenix metro area because of a promise made in 2000 that gambling would not be expanded in the Phoenix region. About 100 sites would be located elsewhere. However, that kind of expansion without the metro area needs further evaluation.
The Navajos, in supporting the bill, cite a pending loss of jobs from the Navajo Generating Station and the fact that nearly half of residents already are unemployed. More than a third do not have electricity and running water. The tribe, which has not benefited from gaming as much as others because of its remote location, clearly needs an economic boost.
Also, veterans would benefit under the proposal. That seems desirable, but perhaps sports wagering is not the best way to aid vets because of the complexity that surrounds gambling.
There is no doubt that legalized gambling has helped Native Americans in Arizona, and those in Pinal County are no exception. The challenge always has been in limiting its expansion to avoid making it too available to problem gamblers and diluting its impact because more entities want to get in. A federal court decision now allows states to permit sports wagering. But the compact negotiations are the proper place to deal with that.