Written by Treena Parvello, Director of Government and Public Relations for the Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise
November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time when we celebrate the history, culture and accomplishments of all indigenous people. Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes have lived and thrived since time immemorial, and we continue to have major impacts on the state’s economy in ways that deserve wider recognition. Tribal enterprises, particularly tribal gaming, is a major employer here in the Valley and around the state.
A 2014 study by the Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA) found that tribal gaming operations are responsible for creating 15,000 direct jobs and supporting thousands of more indirectly. Those impacts have only increased as tribal operations have expanded in recent years. As Director of Government and Public Relations for the Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise, I’ve seen the impacts firsthand.
When the Enterprise opened our permanent Desert Diamond Casino West Valley near Glendale in February 2020, we directly employed approximately 2,000 people and contracted with dozens of local vendors. Our facility complemented the other sports and entertainment amenities in the region, attracting thousands of additional visitors and generating hundreds of millions of dollars is positive economic impacts.
Tribal gaming is a unique industry because its purpose is not to benefit shareholders but rather entire nations. The revenues that are generated at gaming operations like Desert Diamond Casino West Valley stay in Arizona. They help tribal governments fund infrastructure, public safety, health care, education and other vital services. Tribal gaming enterprises also provide career opportunities for tribal members like myself, opportunities that would not otherwise exist.
Under the tribal-state compact, a portion of gaming revenues are also shared with the state to support education, emergency and trauma care, tourism outreach, and wildlife conservation efforts across Arizona. 12% of shared revenue is contributed directly to local governments and non-profits through a grant program. The Tohono O’odham Nation has funded more than 500 grants since 2003, including two contributions of $1 million each last year to support COVID-19 research at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.
Desert Diamond Casinos also goes above and beyond, making dozens of charitable contributions each year to nonprofit partners in the Valley, such as Valleywise Health Foundation, Chicanos Por La Causa, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, and many others. Building those relationships and seeing the good work that we are supporting is one of my favorite parts of my job.
Tribal gaming has made an incredible difference, but there is much yet to be done. That is why, with the tribal-state gaming compacts set to expire in 2026, tribal leaders spent several years negotiating with the state to update, streamline, and extend the compacts. The amended compact, signed earlier this year, ensures the stability of tribal gaming for another two decades. And it creates new opportunities for tribes.
Under the new compact, we can now offer more gaming devices and new table games such as roulette and craps at Desert Diamond Casino West Valley. Sports betting was also authorized by companion legislation the compact, so that tribes and a limited number of sports franchises could participate. Desert Diamond will be launching its sportsbook in the near future, creating yet another entertainment option for Arizonans that will create jobs and support tribal self-determination.
It’s an exciting time for Desert Diamond Casinos and is another example of how tribal gaming enterprises are having a positive economic impact on the Valley and the entire state. So, as we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, let’s acknowledge tribes’ ongoing role creating jobs and opportunity for all Arizonans so that we all keep moving forward together.
Treena Parvello is Director of Government and Public Relations for the Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation through her father and her mother is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.