"If You Build It They Will Come"
Each day Harrah's Ak-Chin casino sends their big purple bus winding through various valley cities, picking up old folks and ferrying them 60 miles out, to their Maricopa casino. All "free of charge".
Here in Sun City, the big purple bus pulls up to the Bell Recreation Center at 8:30 in the morning. A few dozen eager old people climb onto the bus, sit back in their plush seats, and begin bantering with the other "regulars" from Glendale and Scottsdale and Surprise.
An hour later the bus pulls up to the front of the Ak-Chin casino, the gray hairs file out, line up for their free drink and slot play tickets, then grab a stool in front of one of those flashy, noisy slot machines and contribute a hunk of their social security pension to the one armed bandits installed just for that purpose.
At 1:00 PM, their pockets lighter, their wallets thinner, the old folks file back to the bus, climb on, and nap their way home.
This has been going on since the early 90's when the state granted the Indian Tribes their casino gambling licenses.
Last week a big old clanking monkey wrench was thrown into that sweet deal the Indian Casinos in the far east valley have enjoyed for more than two decades.
The monkey wrench came in the form of a new casino that opened in the west valley. Run by the Tohono Indian Tribe from down Tucson way, the Desert Diamond Casino opened its doors to all the west side "wanna bees", and the old folks residing in the three west side Sun City communities.
No longer do these old people have to board a bus for a two hour round trip to "slot poverty"; now they can get clipped closer to home.
Well, you can imagine the stir this caused at those "east valley casinos" that have enjoyed the plush shakedowns from all these west valley suckers. The other casinos have sent big piles of money into political donations to all our esteemed politicians in order to stop this west valley casinos. Both John McCain and Jeff Flake, Arizona's two senators tried to pass a Congressional law that would prevent the building of this west side casino. And the state politicians, enriched by the old guard casinos' campaign donations, have filed suit after suit in both the state and federal courts.
To the pols' consternation, the courts have ruled time and again that the Tohono Tribe owns the Glendale land and have every right to build a casino. The courts seemed to be saying "hey Whitey, you've been screwing Native Americans for some three hundred years, and it's high time they have the right to screw you right back.
The state, in a snit, has limited the new casino to slots only; no table games of any kind. That limitation too has been challenged in court, with every expectation that the new casino will win and be granted full gaming privileges.
It is also interesting that the politicians are opposing this new casino even as every citizen poll has shown 80% approval for the new casino, partly because it will create thousands of new jobs, and partly because our west side gamblers desire a shorter commute to gamble. Why would the politicians oppose what their constituents want? Because those fat campaign donations from the other established tribes are too sweet a deal!
Amidst all this turmoil I sit and grin at the grand irony. Being "neutered" from the gambling bug myself, I am neutral on the issue. While I love seeing politicians taking it in the ass for a change, I'm a bit saddened that all these west siders will now find a closer and more convenient venue for losing their money.
So, last week the new casino opened. It's situated in a temporary 500,000 square foot building that will eventually be converted to warehouse space when the grander and far larger hotel and casino is built.
Despite the modest simplicity of the temporary facility, last week's grand opening presented much pre-holiday excitement for the "slot folks". Hundreds of them camped out the night before the opening, pitching tents, laying out sleeping bags, and equipped with flashlights so they could sit and read Stephen King and Danielle Steel novels while waiting for "slot nirvana" the next morning.
Well, I was out on Northern Avenue last week, out to the See's Candy Store to buy my wife her traditional Peanut Brittle for her Christmas stocking. So I swung by the new casino and scouted it out for my wife, who's no slouch when it comes to her video poker.
After driving around and around the parking lot, I finally found a parking place, walked into the casino, my senses assaulted by garish purple overhead lights and noisy slots...every seat taken on this opening day. Old folks in wheel chairs were prominent, their bleary day brightened by the bells and whistles of the bandit machines, their life enriched as long as their pension money holds up.
I found the whole scene rather sad, the only bright spot in the whole thing being my imagining both the politicians and the east valley casino moguls grinding their teeth in frustration that they can't tempt as many of the far off west valley suckers into 120 mile round trips to shuck them of their money.