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Three speakers on a panel
April 25, 2024
April 25, 2024

First-ever convening of Tribal gaming partners

Tribal gaming has been an essential part of Arizona’s economy for decades, operated by 16 of Arizona’s 22 tribes at 27 Tribal casinos (25 Class III, 2 Class II). And in 2024, Tribal leaders, regulators and operators are collaborating more than ever thanks to a first-of-its-kind convening and other resources developed by the Arizona Department of Gaming

According to the American Gaming Association, annually, Tribal gaming and sports betting contributes $7.78 billion to the Arizona economy, contributing tens of millions every year to school districts, hospitals, wildlife conservation, tourism and problem gambling initiatives, in addition to supporting more than 51,000 jobs. Tribal gaming dollars go directly to Tribal communities, contributing to economic growth, infrastructure development, cultural preservation and tourism. 

Barriers and successes for Tribal gaming facilities across the state are varied, but there are many areas of common ground. After hearing feedback that their partners wanted more chances to connect and share information among Tribal gaming interests, the Arizona Department of Gaming started developing plans to improve opportunities to communicate and engage statewide. The agency decided to develop both a communications plan and a brand-new annual event.

The plan established collaborative communication channels between the Department of Gaming and Arizona’s Tribal Communities with a focus on Tribal leadership, Tribal gaming regulators and casino operators. A Tribal gaming newsletter launched in October 2023 to share information quarterly, but the most ambitious part of the plan was launching the Annual Tribal Gaming Conference, which provided an unprecedented opportunity for Tribal gaming partners to come together with the state to celebrate combined achievements and create a forum for regulatory collaboration. 

Planning was kicked off with formalizing strategic planning goals to increase, improve and standardize communications with Arizona Tribes. In fall 2023, the agency commenced planning the event, working with the Governor’s Office of Tribal Relations, the Arizona Tribal Gaming Regulators Alliance and other agencies to propose ideas, with a team of 10 taking the lead on logistics and more than 30 involved in presentations and day-of operations for the inaugural event on January 11, 2024, at the Desert Willow Conference Center in Phoenix. 

The agenda included a Tribal leaders roundtable; a Q&A with Gov. Katie Hobbs and Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel; a panel about Tribal contributions throughout the state; an update on illegal gambling, a presentation from the Division of Problem Gambling; and breakout sessions about training, audits and state certifications. Nearly 200 attendees participated from all over the state, representing 17 Tribes. Agency leaders say that the feedback has been resounding: partners have found the communication and engagement invaluable. 

Derrick Beetso, professor of practice and director of the Indian Gaming and Self-Governance Programs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, participated as a moderator. He said he appreciated hearing about the impact that Tribal gaming partnerships have provided to Arizonans, learning more about the needs and interests of rural Arizona Tribes and building on relationships that have evolved since the passing of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the introduction of event wagering. 

This convening demonstrates that those relationships matter to Arizona in its dealings with Tribal governments and demonstrates good faith on behalf of the state,” said Beetso. “This leadership and dialogue is important because Tribes are consistently concerned about any future actions that might impact their valuable gaming enterprises. Ongoing dialogue which emphasizes shared goals and partnerships will help ease any such concerns.”

After the event, follow-up efforts included Tribes sharing their problem gambling plans and establishing a library of standard work to share for best practices. Next year’s conference planning is underway, taking lessons learned this year into consideration; the 2025 event may include breakout sessions on boxing or mixed martial arts events as well as cultural presentations, such as the inclusion of dancers. 

Arizona Department of Gaming Cabinet Executive Officer Jackie Johnson said the event represents a significant milestone for Tribal gaming partners to come together, celebrate combined achievements and lay the groundwork for future collaboration.

“The conference served as a pivotal moment in Tribal-state gaming collaboration, with attendees and organizers reflecting on achievements that have fostered cooperation and understanding between Tribal communities, government entities, as well as the state overall,” said Johnson. “Improving communication and collaboration with Arizona Tribes is a priority for state agencies, and we’re proud to enhance transparency and promote initiatives that benefit Tribal communities and beyond.”