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11:01 PM Sat, Feb. 23rd

Gaming officials bet on expanding casino gaming

KINGMAN - Arizona voters could expand casino and racetrack/casino gaming to the entire state next year.

The Arizona Secretary of State released information about an initiative petition filed by Arizonans for Fair Gambling to expand casino and racetrack/casino gambling to the rest of the state. Currently, casino gambling is only allowed on tribal lands.

According to the organization's filing statement, the tribes have had a "monopoly" on the gambling industry for the last several years. Permitting racetracks and casinos to operate in areas outside of tribal lands will provide jobs and funding for various state programs.

According to the proposed ballot language, the casinos would be approved by a citizens committee and run under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Gaming.

The department would collect the state's share of the proceeds on a quarterly basis. The amount of money collected by the state would depend on how much the casino made. According to the initiative language, the state would collect 2 percent of the first $25 million made, 6 percent of the next $50 million, 12 percent of the next $25 million and 16 percent of all proceeds over $100 million.

Proceeds would be collected not only from gambling machines, card tables and other games of chance but also from restaurants, gift shops, movie theaters, hotels and other activities.

If the initiative is approved, the funds collect by the department would be split amongst a number of funds that would be created, including:

• 10 percent to the department of Gaming for administrative costs.

• 10 percent to a instructional improvement fund that offers funding to school districts to reduce class sizes, increase teacher pay and pay for dropout prevention programs.

• 2 percent for gambling addiction and addiction prevention programs.

• 10 percent to a trauma and emergency services fund.

• 5 percent to the Arizona Wildlife Conservation Fund.

• 10 percent to a tourism fund.

• 20 percent to the Arizona College Scholarship Fund. The fund would pay for 25 percent of the cost of tuition to a state college, university or community college for eligible students. The Legislature would be prohibited from sweeping money from this fund.

• 10 percent to an organ transplant fund for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. This would help patients on AHCCCS who need help paying for an organ transplant. The Legislature would be prohibited from sweeping money from this fund.

• 6 percent to cities, towns and counties that have casinos in their jurisdiction. At least one half of 1 percent of the money given to local governments would have to be used on law enforcement and first responders. The Legislature would be prohibited from sweeping money from this fund.

• 3 percent to the Cactus League to help pay for tickets to league baseball games and Diamondback home games for special needs children under 18.

• 5 percent to a healthcare fund to assist veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

• 3 percent to Child Protective Services to fund adoptions and assist pregnant teens.

• 6 percent to the Arizona General Fund to be distributed to cities, towns and counties.

The Legislature would not be able to sweep money from most of the funds, however it could, on the first year anniversary of a casino opening, ask the department for a two year loan of 50 percent of the proceeds of that casino at zero percent interest. At least one public hearing would have to be held before the money could be loaned and a two-thirds vote of approval by both houses of the Legislature would be needed to override any veto from the governor's office.

Also the Legislature would be prohibited from borrowing money from the following funds: the Department of Gaming's administration fund, the prevention of gambling addiction fund, the organ transplant fund, the trauma fund, the scholarship fund, the funding to local governments, the veteran's fund and the CPS fund.

New casinos would have their income tax reduced by 50 percent for the first five years of operations as an incentive to open. They would also have to pay a $10,000 contract fee in order to operate in Arizona.

The initiative would also limit the types of games casinos and racetracks could operate to: slots, blackjack, jackpot poker, Kino, the state lottery, off-track betting for horse and dog races, baccarat, dice/craps and roulette. Casinos would be limited to 150 card tables and 1,000 gaming machines, such as slots. They could purchase more table or machine allotments from other casinos and those allotments could be increased during the renewal of the casino's license. There are also wager limits on the various games, which would increase every five years in sync with the consumer price index.

Casinos would also be required to keep and submit a list of people banned from their property. They would also be required to keep a self-exclusion list, a list of people who want the casino to prevent them from gambling.

The initiative would also require that casinos confiscate the winnings of people who have not paid child support.

One casino would be allowed in each of the following areas: Apache Junction, Lake Havasu City, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Yuma and one in Avondale or Goodyear or Litchfield Park. Two casinos would be allowed in Phoenix and Bullhead City. Additional casinos could be licensed in 2020 in Bullhead City, Peoria, Tucson and Yuma. Two racetrack casinos can not be built within 10 miles of each other except in Bullhead City or if circumstances dictated otherwise.

A casino's license would be renewed every 5 years with the Arizona Attorney General's Office as the final arbiter of conflicts between casinos and the Gaming Department.