Drinks to be allowed on gaming floor at Twin Arrows

By Bill Donovan and Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 4, 2013

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Alcohol service has become more accessible at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort after the Navajo Nation Council passed legislation easing restrictions.

During the June 28 special session, the Council voted 9 in favor, 7 opposed to allow casino patrons to take their alcoholic beverages onto the gaming floor.

President Ben Shelly signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

Shelly issued support for the measure in a June 24 memorandum to members of the Law and Order Committee.

"The Navajo Nation has invested heavily in the construction of its casino, Fire Rock, Northern Edge and now with our newly opened Twin Arrows facilities it is important that the Navajo Nation competes on the same level as the other casinos within Arizona," Shelly wrote.

"All we want, is to be competitive with other Indian casinos in the state," said Derrick Watchman, CEO of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, in an interview last week.

Twin Arrows has been open since May and Watchman said there have been complaints from patrons used to visiting other Indian casinos in Arizona and having more freedom in where they can drink their alcohol.

Fire Rock Navajo Casino and Northern Edge Navajo Casino have liquor sales and consumption that are restricted to their bars and restaurants, Watchman said, because the compact signed by the tribe with New Mexico restricts sales to those areas. The Arizona compact is more lenient in that regard.

Watchman stressed that Twin Arrows will have to take steps to make sure that patrons do not drink excessively.

"We have liquor licenses from the State of Arizona and the Navajo Nation," Watchman said. "If we do anything to lose the Arizona license, it would be devastating to us."

He said that the state conducts periodic inspections of the facilities to make sure that liquor laws are being followed and if the establishment has too many violations, its liquor licenses could be taken away, which would result in a sharp decrease in the number of people who come to the casino.

"We are very regulated," he said.

To make sure that liquor laws are followed, the casino provides training for those who serve the liquor, teaching them to look for signs that a person may be consuming too much too fast.

The casino plans to require that all drinks be served from the bar, which will also reduce problems that would occur if drinks were sold on the floor.

During the Council discussion, Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau) moved to have the legislation tabled but failed to collect the required two-thirds of the votes.

Yazzie mentioned work has started to propose an alcohol sales tax that would collect revenue to fund the tribe's divisions of Public Safety and Social Services.

He also mentioned there were no supporting resolutions from chapters.

Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) attempted to ban the selling of alcohol in the gift shop and by room service.

Tsosie's motion failed after some delegates voiced opposition.

Charles Damon (Bááháál’/Chichiltah/Manuelito/Rock Springs/Tsayatoh/Tsé Lich’’) questioned how hotel guests would be prohibited from bringing their own liquor to their hotel rooms.

Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/K’ts'’’l’/Piñon/Whippoorwill) said by allowing liquor service to hotels rooms, gaming personnel cannot regulate it.

In addition to that, if a patron purchases alcohol from the gift shop then leaves the casino and causes an accident, the tribe could be liable, Witherspoon said.

"It seems like every single time we are bowing down to the gaming, what they want," Danny Simpson (Becenti/Crownpoint/Huerfano/Lake Valley/Nageezi/Nahodisggish/Tsé '’’'áh’/Whiterock) said. "What's more important? The lives of our Navajo people or the dollars?"