Navajos may get 6 casinos - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said Wednesday that he anticipates about six casinos being built on the three-state reservation in the near future, adding that where they will be is "anyone's guess."

Shirley made the comments during a quickly called news conference in Window Rock because of fears that some of the tribe's chapters, the local governing units, will try to go their own way in negotiating gaming contracts.

Shirley said that all gaming contracts are subject to approval of the Navajo central government.
A 1994 study commissioned by the nation's largest tribe had identified the LeChee chapter near Lake Powell and the Cameron chapter near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon as the best spots for Arizona casinos. It also recommended the communities of Shiprock and Navajo, N.M.

Since then, many other Navajo communities have expressed interest in having casinos, most of them near Interstate 40 in northeastern Arizona. Shirley said that the tribal government is examining 10 sites for casinos but that he did not know where they all are located. The tribe can build up to four casinos in Arizona.

"I've been saying all along I'd like to start building casinos in mid- to late summer," Shirley said, adding that some of them could be open by early next year.

The director of a new regulatory office of Navajo gaming is expected to be hired soon.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been among critics of the Navajo Nation starting gaming operations because of fears that the tribe's remote location would be an obstacle for success of the casinos.

Others, however, view the I-40 corridor especially as an untapped gold mine.

Shirley has said that the most logical place to build the first casino would be as close to I-40 and Flagstaff as possible, and leaders of the Leupp chapter in the southwestern corner of the reservation have endorsed construction of a casino.

Shirley said a formula will be devised to determine how much revenue the tribe's central government would receive from gaming and how much each chapter would receive.

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