The Navajo Nation may have found a way to get gambling profits without gambling’s pitfalls.
November, Arizona voters narrowly approved Proposition 202, and
opened a new way for tribes—including those without
casinos—to profit from gaming. Under the new rule,
participating tribes are given “slot allotments” that
represent the maximum number of slot machines they could legally
operate under state law. Tribes like the Navajo Nation and the
Havasupai, which don’t have casinos, can lease their
allotments to tribes that do.
Although Navajos have
repeatedly voted down referendums to allow gaming on their
reservation, they may welcome revenue from leasing slot allotments,
says Deana Jackson, press officer for newly elected Navajo Nation
President Joe Shirley. The Navajos can lease up to 1,400
allotments, which could earn them millions of dollars.
of April, the nation was negotiating a slot-allotment lease with an
undisclosed tribe. The proceeds, says Jackson, would help fulfill
basic Navajo needs, like water, power and college scholarships. The
tribal council should vote on this particular lease by
Althomas Spencer of the Navajo Nation Museum says he
expects that the prospect of leasing allotments will generate
heated debate, once it becomes more widely known. So far, though,
“It really is not out there yet,” he says.
Navajo’s long-standing aversion to reservation casinos may be
rooted in an old story. According to tribal teachings, Nahoolbiihii
— “the one who will win you” — once came
among the people, tempting them to gamble with him. Soon, the
people had gambled away everything, even themselves and their
families, and under Nahoolbiihii’s control, they were forced
to build what is now called Chaco Canyon.
In the story, a
young boy called Naa hoo’ di dahi — “the
impoverished one” — was sent from the Holy People. With
a knack for numbers, he successfully gambled back the most vital
things — stories, kinship systems, land, culture.
Nahoolbiihii voluntarily exiled himself, but threatened to return
one day. That threat still lingers in the minds of Navajo elders