Navajo lawmakers to consider alcohol sales at tribal casino
By Felicia Fonseca -- Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - As the Navajo Nation moves forward with plans for its first casino, tribal lawmakers are considering how best to turn a profit.
On a reservation where the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited, lawmakers are set to vote on a measure during their winter session that would make the casino dining area an exception.
''That will be real controversial,'' Delegate LoRenzo Bates said. ''You're going to have all the opponents there. There will be a lot of discussion on 'if you do this, then you're contributing to a disease that exists on Navajo.' Then the other folks on the other side saying it will bring business.''
The Church Rock Chapter, which will host the casino, passed a resolution last year in support of alcohol sales. While acknowledging such sales could lead to alcohol abuse, the chapter said they're needed to compete with other dining facilities in the area.
If the measure fails, Navajo Gaming Chief Bob Winter says the casino - scheduled to open near Gallup in July - could lose up to 10 percent of its restaurant income and 5 percent of gaming income.
George Hardeen, a spokesman for Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., said the president is aware that casinos make a significant portion of their profits from alcohol sales.
''We already have the problem with alcohol abuse, not just on the Navajo Nation, but in every state in the nation,'' Hardeen said. ''You don't hear stories every week about people leaving casinos drunk, which isn't to say it doesn't happen. But this is a business, and the Navajo Nation is getting into it to generate revenue.''
Delegate Edmund Yazzie can see the pros and cons of the legislation.
''I'm always going to be against alcohol,'' said Yazzie, the vice chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee. ''Being a former law enforcement [officer], I saw a lot of negative from this.''
But, he said he would support the bill if a portion of the sales benefited tribal police officers by helping to increase their salaries, purchase uniforms or fund jail facilities, for example.
This will be the second time delegates take up the issue of approving alcohol sales. Delegates voted in 2001 to allow alcohol delivery and sales at the tribe's Antelope Point Marina and Resort in western Arizona.
Legislative counsel Ray Etcitty said the sales at the casino would be restricted to the dining area.
''There's going to be no bar, no package liquor,'' he said. ''It's going to be there if you order food. ... I don't think the purpose is happy hour or things of that nature.''
Etcitty said he is drafting legislation that would allow for a tax on alcohol sold at the casino. The revenues would go toward alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs, he said.
''We're trying to minimize the negative effects,'' he said.
The council's winter session began Jan. 28 in the tribe's capital of Window Rock, Ariz.