Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 24, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Gaming Department


  • The Director of the Arizona Department of Gaming, Mark Brnovich, discusses the role and responsibilities of the department.
Guests:
  • Mark Brnovich - Arizona Department of Gaming
Category: Government

View Transcript
Ted Simons: What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas. Casinos receiver where, and in Arizona 23 casinos are operated by 15 Native American tribes. The growth of Indian gaming makes tribes more economically self sufficient but also creates a tempting opportunity for crime. Joining me is Mark Brnovich, who has a long history of prosecuting casino crimes and in march Governor Brewer appoint him director of Arizona's department of gaming. Director of gaming, looking at tribal casinos, what else?

Mark Brnovich: The department of gaming is a law enforcement agency which is charged with protecting the public, ensuring the integrity of gaming and also monitoring compact compliance. Working hand in hand with our tribal partners, we ensure that casino operations are operated pursuant to the compact and when patrons go into those facilities they know they're operated in the safest and most professional manner. Additionally, the department of gaming also has statutory authority to investigate a criminal activity off reservation. One of -- I know the governor is very serious about protecting the public, and pursuing criminal cases when they do arise, even in these tough budget times. So one of the things that I would like to bring to the department is a much more aggressive approach to gaming occurring off tribal lands.

Ted Simons: I want to talk more about that. We think about casino crimes and it's Ocean's 11, all this sort of businesses. There's a lot going on, from defrauding to other aspects. Talk about what kind of casino crimes you often see and have to go after.

Mark Brnovich: Well, the interesting thing is that prior to my appointment, prior to Governor Brewer appointing me, I was an assistant United States attorney and I focused primarily on pursuing and prosecuting casino and gambling-related crimes. What we've seen historically is when you don't aggressively pursue and go after those gambling and casino-type crimes, we see the public erosion in confidence in the gaming establishments. Additionally it attracts organized and unorganized crimes. The types of crimes, you see everything from armed robberies or people attempting to maybe steal a cash drop, to employee and patrons-crimes of opportunity, where you have folks that are maybe tough economic times, or because of the situation they're in, decide, well, the temptation is too great. It's one of the reasons why the department does background investigations and certifies even vendors in order to attempt to try to prevent some of those types of criminal infiltrations from getting in the front door of casinos.

Ted Simons: Organized crime much of a factor?

Mark Brnovich: In Arizona, fortunately no. We have a system here, a three-tiered regulatory system. We have the national gaming commission as well as the tribal regulators and the department of gaming working hand in hand tone sure those types of influences don't come into Arizona casinos. Of course historically any time you're dealing with a cash intensive industry like the casino, the gambling industry, you're going to attract the crooks, the cheats, the criminal elements, the corrupting influences, like moths being drawn to the flame. But as the result of our vigorous regulatory structures, the result of going after and prosecuting those cases when they arise, you keep that kind of stuff out of the state.

Ted Simons: Tribes themselves, are they doing a good job in policing their own casinos? Talk about the cooperation there and how good a job they're doing.

Mark Brnovich: The department of gaming works very, very closely with our tribal partners to ensure the integrity of those gaming operations. I'm very fortunate to be appointed to work at a department with so many great and fine quality individuals that have a lot of experience and knowledge. The department has 37 sworn peace officers as well as dozens of other employees and auditors that work once again hand in hand at the tribal authorities and the tribal gaming offices to ensure the integrity of the gaming operations.

Ted Simons: Llet's talk about the compacts. You referred to them earlier. How much money does the state get from tribal casinos?

Mark Brnovich: Well, a couple things about that. One, I think it's important to clear up a misnomer. Some people say we don't know how much money is coming in that's not true. We know exactly how much money comes in. The department of gaming is charged, we have auditors, we review the tribal books and we know exactly how much money comes in. The compacts provide for 1-8% of tribal revenue ends up coming to the state. This last fiscal year was about the total was about $96.5 million. Cumulatively since 2003, since these current compacts went into effect, it's about half a billion dollars. So we're seeing a significant amount of revenue, and if I can add one thing on that, it's not only the revenue the state is getting but we've got to remember part of the reason why Congress passed the Indian gaming regulatory act of 1988 was because of the conditions that existed in Indian country. And one of the things or three of the things Indian gaming regulatory act is supposed to do is really encourage tribal self-sufficiency, promote tribal self-governance and additionally promote economic development. That's one of the things the gaming revenue is doing, providing economic opportunities in Indian country.

Ted Simons: Opportunities are there, tangible results. Seen it?

Mark Brnovich: I think anyone that's lived in Arizona as I have, grew up here, you can see just in the last decade, last 20 years, the positive results that Indian gaming has brought to tribal land. We see everything from new police stations, fire stations, dialysis centers. We have educational opportunities, scholarships for tribal members. We're seeing a lot of positive results in Indian country, but obviously there's a lot more that can be done.

Ted Simons: As far as the money coming into the state, where's that money going?

Mark Brnovich: There's basically by statute as a result of the voters passing prop 202 in 2002, the money is allocated to certain funds. And the tribes make contributions to local communities, but additionally, the funds come into everything from education funds, to trauma and emergency Services funds, to the wildlife fund, tourism fund. So the money is being used to fund various state functions.

Ted Simons: There are those who say that maybe the tribes should be contributing a little more than they do. Is that a valid argument?

Mark Brnovich: Well, once again, we have to look at the reasons why we have Indian gaming. These aren't for-profit private entities. These are government entities, and as folks know, I'm sure, that have been around in Indian country, there's a lot of economic development, a lot of infrastructure, a lot of development that needed to take place. So this is a little different than your traditional MGM or Caesars private gaming establishment. What we're talking about here is a gaming that's being used to fund vital government functions, and ultimately the voters in 2002 were presented with various options, and these are the compacts that the voters enacted, which became part of state law.

Ted Simons: Voters also are presented with an option for RACiNOS, the idea of casino games at race tracks. Does that -- obviously when you talk about compacts, you talk about the wherewithal of gaming, that changes the whole ball game.

Mark Brnovich: It's definitely a game-changer. The landscape here in Arizona would change dramatically if indeed Gaming was allowed to go off reservation. The compacts provide that tribes can operate casinos without regard to limitation as to size, number of games, types of games. So it's a game-changer. Frankly the voters had a chance to run that in 2002 and they overwhelmingly rejected it.

Ted Simons: Would you have a staff if RACiNOS were looked at again and approved?

Mark Brnovich: The department of gaming has the expertise and knowledge to handle gaming operations investigations, but obviously there would have to be a ramp-up if gaming did go off reservation.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Mark Brnovich: Thanks, I appreciate it too.

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