Come Friday morning, the doors to Arizona's newest American Indian casino will swing open, whether the state likes it or not.
The only game at Casino Arizona will be poker - for now.But as landscapers planted shrubs and cashiers and dealers received last-minute training Wednesday, bulldozers were at work nearby on the next stage: a spacious center filled with 500 jingling slot machines.
"The bottom line is jobs and opportunities and economic development for the Indian community," said Jon Jenkins, president and chief executive of Casino Arizona, just a stone's throw from Scottsdale and only a few miles from Phoenix itself.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community has acknowledged that ex-cons will be among the 350 workers at the poker hall, the Tribune reported Thursday. The tribe says the workers are qualified tribal members who deserve a second chance.
Gary Husk, the state gaming director, said the move invites corruption and threatens public safety. "We have gone to court to shut down casinos for this type of thing," he told the newspaper, which serves Phoenix.
Talks aimed at producing a gambling compact between the community and the state have failed, but Gov. Jane Hull has decided not to go to court to stop tribal leaders from opening the poker hall.
"The decision to open is theirs," Hull spokeswoman Francie Noyes said.
The sticking point in negotiations is what role the state would play in regulating Casino Arizona's poker games. Attorney General Grant Woods ruled last year that Indian-run poker is illegal, but eight of the state's 15 tribes that offer poker still operate the games.
Arizona contends state law prohibits reservation poker unless it is subject to state regulation. However, the National Indian Gaming Commission, which oversees some aspects of Indian gambling operations under federal law, has said poker is not subject to state regulation.
State officials have long resisted negotiating a gambling compact with the Salt River Community. Arizona was forced to the table in 1996 when voters passed an initiative requiring the governor to negotiate gambling compacts on request by any tribe still without one.
Fears that a casino will adversely affect residents of Scottsdale and cities nearby are exaggerated, Casino Arizona and tribal officials say.