New Casino A Monument To Tribe's Progress

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The progress made in 2005 by the Tonto Apache Tribe of Payson is evident to anyone who has ventured to the far south side of town.

The TAT focused its finances and energy on the construction of its new casino and hotel.

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Work is continuing on the multi-million dollar casino-hotel project at the Tonto Apache Reservation. The hotel will have 40 guest suites and the casino floor will boast more games.

The new complex will feature a larger casino, with more games, plus a snack grill and restaurant and a 40-guest-room, all-suites hotel. The hotel will have an enclosed pool, and a sound-proofing wall has been constructed between it and the casino portion of the facility.

The interior of the new casino and hotel will feature elements representing the tribe's culture, the Payson area and the Mogollon Rim.

Tribal elders participated in developing the design, said Sabrina Campbell, executive secretary for the tribal council.

"We're hoping to have it open later this year," said Jerry Holland, controller for the TAT.

When the new facility is in operation, the existing casino will be remodeled into convention, meeting and banquet facilities for up to 500, with theater-style seating for 1,000. Other meeting complexes in the Rim Country can currently accommodate groups only half that size.

The expansion will add an expected 50 new jobs.

The construction project contributed money to the area's economy through the use of subcontractors and the purchase of materials and equipment.

This will add to the TAT's considerable contribution to the economy of Payson and the Rim Country.

The tribe released a study, "Economic assessment: The Tonto Apache Tribe's Impact on the Payson, Arizona Region," in August 2005. The report was prepared by the University of Arizona's Dr. Lay James Gibson.

"The Tonto Apache Tribe might be small in terms of both population and land area, but its contributions to the greater Payson area economy are enormous," Gibson, said.

The tribe's payroll, through the casino, its government operations and other businesses, is $8.3 million, Gibson said.

While state taxes are not paid on the $3 million in per capita payments made to tribal members, $600,000 in federal taxes were withheld in 2004.

The tribal government and its businesses also pay for goods and services. More than $16 million was spent in 2004, with approximately $4 million paid to Payson-area businesses and the balance going to the Phoenix area, elsewhere in Arizona and out of state. The casino spends about $7.5 million out of state.

"That is primarily for leasing our slot machines," said James McDermott, general manager of the Mazatzal Casino. "We'd like to spend more of that in state, but there are only a couple of slot manufacturers in Scottsdale. Most of them are in Nevada."

Summarizing his report, Gibson said the fortunes of the town and tribe are tied to one another.

"A more effective and efficient partnership between these entities will help assure that all parties benefit," he said.

He recommended that tribal and community leaders meet on a regular basis.

"The tribe and town have a pretty good working relationship," Holland said, and the two have moved toward more regular meetings. "But it is difficult to get all of our tribal council and all of the town council together, because of everyone's schedules," he said.

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