Folks who frequently shake hands with the one-armed bandits at the Mazatzal Casino can have a say Tuesday about the way the state renegotiates its tribal gaming compacts in the coming months.
The state is holding a public hearing in Payson -- the first in a series of hearings throughout the state -- to find out what the public thinks about Native American gaming regulations; casino locations; social and economic impacts; and the fate of the state's gaming compacts.
"We chose Payson for this hearing for a couple of reasons," said Paul Walker, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Gaming.
"The first reason is that geographically, it made sense. With casinos in Prescott, Camp Verde, Payson and one right outside of Show Low, Payson was the geographic center, which makes it easier for the northern communities."
The state also chose Payson as a hearing site because the Tonto Apaches and the Town of Payson have forged a solid working relationship.
"From reading the newspaper, we've seen several stories on how well the tribe and the community have worked together," Walker said. "If it's true that the Tonto Apaches and the town have found a way to coexist in a cooperative manner, then we want to figure out how we can translate that to the state level."
Local casino officials said this week that they welcome the opportunity to discuss the future of their industry in Arizona.
"I think it's good that the governor is initiating discussions on the compact renegotiations," casino general manager James McDermott said.
Tonto Apache officials and representatives from tribes around the region plan to attend the meeting, he said.
The chamber manager said he plans to address several points, including his No. 1 pet peeve: the perception that Native American gaming is unregulated.
"It is the most heavily regulated form of gaming in the United States," he said. "We have three levels of regulations. We have the tribal regulations, the state regulations and the National Indian Gaming Commission -- federal regulations. Not even Nevada can boast that much regulation."
McDermott said he encourages everyone with an opinion on the subject --positive or negative --to attend the hearing. The hearing is an open forum, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Nov. 30, at Payson Town Hall. Walker said it will be geared specifically toward gaining public input.
"We've tried to get away from a situation where expert after expert stands up and gives testimony," he said. "Everything will be driven toward the audience, with the topic areas the governor told us to get answers on. We don't want it to be a night of cheerleading, or bad-mouthing. We are hoping to get specific recommendations on what the public is looking for in these negotiations."
Three other hearings have been scheduled for Yuma, Phoenix and Tucson. Testimony from the hearings will be compiled for Gov. Jane Hull.
Those who can't attend the hearings can send written comments before Dec. 16 to the Arizona Department of Gaming, attention Public Information Officer, 202 E. Earll Drive, Suite 200, Phoenix, AZ 85012.
"As far as predictions, I don't think there will be any threat of losing the compacts," he said. "This is just a good opportunity for the public to come out and get their views on the record."