Thanks to casino earnings, the fast-growing Pascua Yaqui Tribe has spent $3 million to buy a 5,300-acre cattle ranch. The purchase expands the tribe's land base to 6,300 acres.


Tribal Chairman Benito Valencia said he would not rule out building a second casino on the ranch. Under gaming compacts with Arizona, however, tribes cannot put casinos outside their original reservation boundaries; the newly purchased ranch is eight miles from tribal headquarters. Asked whether he would try to change that rule, Valencia said, "That remains to be seen."


The ranch purchase puts to work some of the revenues that have flowed into tribal coffers since the Yaquis opened Casino of the Sun in 1994. The tribe bought the Tortuga Ranch March 12 from Sonoita-area rancher John Donaldson. He has run cattle both on his land and on 26,000 acres of state and federal land.


The driving force behind the purchase was the tribe's growing membership, officials said. It is now nearly 13,000, and another 5,000 prospective members have applications pending. The tribe has grown about 2.5 percent annually since the federal government liberalized enrollment procedures in the early 1990s.


*Tony Davis