efore the session started, Senate President Russell Pearce and House Speaker Kirk Adams, both said they weren't considering the idea as a budget solution. "I'd just as soon drive to Vegas," Pearce said at an Arizona Republic editorial-board meeting last month.
On Tuesday morning, Representative John Fillmore proposed a bill that would legalize gaming at horse and greyhound racetracks. But the bill doesn't yet have any co-sponsors and Adams has not yet assigned it to any committee for hearings. Racetrack owners and lobbyists said they were unaware of the bill, which is unusual since they were heavily involved in previous efforts.
Fillmore said that House Bill 2220 was as much a threat to deter the Tohono O'odham Nation from taking land near Glendale and building a new casino as it was about trying to generate new revenue for the state. Right now, the tribes have a monopoly on gaming in Arizona. Legalizing racinos would change that. "This will put all Native American communities on notice that there are repercussions," Fillmore said. "They need to ask the Tohono O'odham to withdraw."
Several other lawmakers have proposed other bills that try in different ways to prevent the same thing; four of them are scheduled for hearings today. Twelve states allow casino-style gambling at racetracks: Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia. According to the Washington, D.C.,-based American Gaming Association, racetrack casinos nationwide generated us$ 6.4 billion in revenue and us$ 2.63 billion in taxes for state and local governments in 2009.
The amount of revenue generated varies by state based on the tax rate and the number of racinos in operation. For example, Florida's four racinos are taxed at 35 % and generated us$ 108 million in 2009.
Five racetracks operate in Arizona: Apache Greyhound Park, Tucson Greyhound Park, Turf Paradise, Yavapai Downs and Rillito Park. During a joint legislative session with Arizona's tribal governments Tuesday, the chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe urged lawmakers to reject racinos. "The Arizona Legislature must agree: Racinos have no place in Arizona," Terry Rambler said.
The Arizona Indian Gaming Association has consistently opposed any expansion of gaming beyond the reservations, even though the legalization of racinos would likely trigger a "poison pill" provision of the gaming compacts signed in 2002 and eliminate limits on the number of games and casinos as well as requirements that the tribes share revenue with the state and local governments.
Two previous efforts to legalize racinos in Arizona have failed. In 2002, voters rejected the idea. In 2009, a legislative effort failed to gain traction, despite heavy lobbying from the racetracks and a study they conducted projecting revenue at 10 locations taxed at 45 percent would bring the state's general fund us$ 375 million a year.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said Fillmore's bill could actually cost the state money because the "poison pill" provision would mean the state could lose everything it gets from Indian gaming, which likely totals more than what racinos would generate.
Vince Francia, the general manager of Turf Paradise and mayor of Cave Creek, said he hadn't reviewed HB 2220 or discussed it with Fillmore. But he thinks racinos would help Arizona. "Racinos are able to potentially offer hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of Arizona because they are willing to share much more of their revenues with the state of Arizona than tribal casinos," he said. "Furthermore, it may be that a new compact could effectively be passed, imposing a better gaming governance for all activity in the state."