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Flag of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona

With new sovereign land granted as the result of a bill signed by President Biden at the end of December, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe can build a casino in Tucson. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Law makes sovereign land a reality

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona may soon be able to build a casino in Tucson thanks to federal legislation signed by President Joe Biden just a few days ago. On December 27, President Biden signed the Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act, placing 40 acres of land on the west side of Tucson into a trust on behalf of the tribe.

The area, which covers a roughly triangular area south of West Grant Road, east of Interstate 10, north of West Calle Adelanto, and west of North 15th Avenue, now becomes sovereign land, thus allowing the Pascua Yaqui tribe to construct a casino on it. In addition to the gambling venue, the tribe plans to preserve religious buildings and build new housing.

promote the ongoing transmission of Yaqui knowledge, culture, history, and traditions”

US Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, the sponsor of the Act, said when it passed the US House of Representatives in November that it will “raise the tribal standard of living, improve system coordination and integration of service delivery, and promote the ongoing transmission of Yaqui knowledge, culture, history, and traditions for future generations.”

City, tribe will work together

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Tucson in 2019 to prepare for the possibility of obtaining the land. The city will continue to provide some services to the area, including fire protection, law enforcement, and other emergency services. Additionally, the city will keep its transit services, traffic controls, and trash collection going.

In exchange, the tribe will pay certain “transaction privilege taxes.” Tucson.com says these taxes would be “based on revenue,” and though the news outlet did not specify, it sounds like it is implying gaming revenue.

The City of Tucson will also continue to provide the new sovereign area with water service, but the tribe will supply its own water to any future casino.

Lots of gambling options in Arizona

Arizona has 25 casinos, all of which are operated by Native American tribes. Four of them are in the greater Tucson area. Casino del Sol Resort and Casino of the Sun, operated by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the Desert Diamond Casino & Hotel, operated by the Tohono O’odham Nation, are all in Tucson proper. Another Desert Diamond Casino, also operated by the Tohono O’odham Nation, is in Why, to the west of Tucson.

Most of Arizona’s casinos opened in the 1990s. The first two were We-Ko-PA Casino & Resort and Yavapai Casino, both opened in 1992. The newest is Apache Sky Casino, which first welcomed customers in 2017.

The state launched its legal sports betting market on September 9, 2021, allowing both retail and mobile wagering. It got off to a tremendous start, with $291m and $486m of handle in September and October, respectively. Those numbers were the best among the six states to launch sports betting in the first 11 months of 2021. The figures have been up and down since, but appear strong overall.

The last month for which betting numbers have been published was September 2022, which saw $538m in handle, the third-best month for Arizona, likely bolstered by the start of the NFL and college football seasons. The best months have been March 2022 ($691m), most likely because of NCAA March Madness and January 2022 ($564m), possibly because of the NFL and college football playoffs.

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