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2 MORE TRIBES TAKE STEPS TOWARD SETTING UP CASINOS

Two more Arizona tribes have taken initial steps toward establishing gambling casinos on their reservations.

The Navajo Nation and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community apparently expect to join 16 other tribes who already have gaming compacts with the state.Members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribe approved a ballot proposal by a 349-187 vote Aug. 23, giving tribal officials the authority to build casinos on their 80-square-mile reservation in north Scottsdale near the Mesa border.

The next day, Navajo President Peterson Zah and his tribe's negotiating team opened discussions on a gaming compact with New Mexico officials. Similar talks were scheduled with Arizona Gov. Fife Symington.

Under federal law, Indian tribes wishing to establish gaming operations on their lands must first negotiate a compact with the state in which they are located.

Since June 1992, nine tribal casinos have opened in Arizona and an additional seven of the state's 21 tribes have signed compacts to open a gaming facility.

Earlier this month, Zah vetoed a resolution of the Navajo Nation Council that would have set up regulations to govern gaming activities on tribal land.

Zah said the issue should be decided by the tribe's 175,000 members in a November referendum to allow time to consider how gambling would affect the reservation.

The Navajo Nation would be allowed to build up to four casinos with an overall maximum of 1,400 gaming devices, according to the regulatory Arizona State Gaming Agency. Each casino could have no more than 500 machines.

With a population tribal President Ivan Makil estimates at 5,500, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribe would be allowed to build three casinos with a maximum of 700 gaming devices total. Each casino could have no more than 500 machines.

But to start construction, Makil said his tribe's council will have to repeal an ordinance forbidding gaming on their reservation, in addition to negotiating a compact with the state.

Makil said the vote was designed mainly to gauge the community's sentiment about gaming.

"Community members made a decision giving the council direction to proceed with gaming here. Now, we have to initiate a plan to take us to the next point," Makil said at a news conference. "The window of opportunity is a short one. We can't take five years to develop this. But I think we will go carefully with much caution and deliberation."

Makil said it will be up to the council to decide where the casino would be built and who would operate it.

The Salt River community would become the third reservation in the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area to offer legalized gambling.

The Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian Community near Fountain Hills has a gaming center featuring 475 slot machines as well as poker games.

The Gila River Indian Community near Chandler recently opened a casino with 271 machines.

"Gambling has some glamorous appeal. I think it would be pretty naive for us to think the Salt River tribe would vote any other way," said Scottsdale City Councilman Richard Thomas. "They want and desire industry in their community.

"But gambling also brings some negative social impacts like the need for more policing and services for people who have overgambled and lost their homes," Thomas added. "I have some real concerns about what it might do to this area."

"We haven't heard any formal complaints, but I'm sure they will come," Makil said. "Gaming is not a solution to all our problems. It's a catalyst to other business opportunities and the potential to develop other forms of revenue.

"This is not just about developing a gaming center. It's about the survival of our people and the future growth of our community," added Makil. "The new challenge is to develop an economic venture that will have a positive impact on the community and state and benefit the economies of our neighbors as well."