The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is betting there are more gaming revenues to reap. Last month it celebrated the grand opening of the Casino del Sol Resort, Spa and Conference Center, a $130 million expansion of its casino and entertainment center at 5655 W. Valencia that includes a 215-room hotel.


The "Five C's" that traditionally made the bulk of Arizona's economy - copper, climate, cattle, cotton, citrus - may need to make room for a sixth: casinos.

Revenue from Arizona's 22 casinos far surpassed cattle, cotton and citrus in the most recent figures for each.

Casinos took in nearly $1.7 billion during fiscal 2011, which ended June 30, according to the Arizona Gaming Department's annual report.

By comparison, cattle receipts totaled $637 million in 2010; those from dairy products, another $650 million. Cotton receipts bounced back from a poor 2009, but the crop's $206 million take was just a fraction of casino wins. And although Arizona's biggest citrus crop, lemons, accounted for nearly 10 percent of U.S. production, it produced just $34 million in receipts.

Casinos are the largest part of an Arizona gaming industry that exceeded $2 billion when Arizona Lottery games - including Powerball and scratch-off tickets - were included. The lotteries grossed $584 million in fiscal 2011.

Still, while Arizona's casino industry is gaining on the traditional drivers of the state economy, the Five C's aren't what they used to be. All six C's were a small part of Arizona's $253 billion gross domestic product in 2010 and have long since taken a back seat to real estate and manufacturing.

Tribal casinos - Arizona's only kind - have succeeded because they bring betting to people who are unlikely to make a trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, said Alan Meister, an economist who studies tribal gaming.

"What Indian casinos did, they brought gaming closer to the customers," he said. "Tribes really have grown the market."

Tribes are betting there's more cash to reap. The Tohono O'odham plan a new resort in Glendale, and the Pascua Yaqui tribe opened an expansion of its Casino del Sol in Tucson in November.

But unlike the Five C's, the positive economic impacts of gaming might be muted by the nature of who the gamblers are and how they typically spend, said Dennis Hoffman, a professor at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.

"My sense is that most (gaming money) is spent by residents, so this is just a churn of local dollars," Hoffman said. "A dollar spent on gaming means one less dollar spent on some other local activity. "Indeed, cattle, cotton and citrus aren't as significant in the state today, but touting gaming as key to economic prosperity using these numbers is a stretch."

Casino-free counties suffer

The three Arizona counties without Indian gaming have seen a decline in dollars from tourists and locals, who leave the county for the entertainment and dining at casinos, said Robert Carreira, director of the Cochise College Center for Economic Research in Sierra Vista.

The eastern agricultural towns of Cochise County don't feel the loss of entertainment dollars as much as the cities near interstates, he said. "For towns like Bisbee and Tombstone, it's vital," Carreira said of the flow of tourism dollars. "Bisbee is the county seat, so there is some help there (for stability) with the government, but it is still very heavily reliant on tourism. And Tombstone absolutely needs it."

Casino officials said their operations do draw dollars from outside the region, however. Sol Casinos CEO Wendell Long said Casino del Sol's new convention center and refurbished resort is expected to bring in about 200 visitors from outside the Tucson area each day.

"We already average 8,000 to 10,000 people a day," Long said last month. "Another 200 people a day from out of town, it doesn't sound like much as a percentage, but that's huge."

It All began in 1988

Arizona tribes began running slot machines after Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. By this November, tribes reporting to Arizona gaming officials were operating 14,451 slot machines, 297 blackjack tables, 191 poker tables, 67 other gaming machines and 11 bingo halls.

Tribes across the state say gaming has brought economic security and essential social-services funding to their nations, many of which have unemployment rates higher than 50 percent and struggle to find money for law enforcement and education.

The National Indian Gaming Association said tribal gaming supported 600,000 jobs in 2010, directly and indirectly.

Casino house wins grew from $1.3 billion in 2004 - the first year under the current compact between the state and the tribes - to a peak of about $2 billion in 2007 before the recession forced that figure down, along with the real estate and tourism sectors.

Economist Meister believes gaming revenue is poised to increase once the economy rebounds, particularly in the Phoenix area.

A distant third

Still, gambling has not come close to the two biggest of the Five C's - copper and climate. Arizona mines produced $5.3 billion worth of copper in 2010, the Arizona Geological Survey reported. Climate - another way to say tourism - brought in about $17.7 billion in fiscal 2011, according to a Dean Runyan Associates report.

While casinos could be considered a smaller slice of that tourism pie, an analyst who created the state tourism figures estimated that only a quarter of gaming revenue comes from tourists. "Roughly 75 percent of it is resident or local spending, so most of it is not visitors," said Bill Klein, a project manager for Dean Runyan Associates. Klein said tourists are more likely to come to Arizona for spring training games or to see the national parks.

While copper and climate top the Five C's, Arizona real estate produced nearly $40 billion in sales in 2010, says the Bureau of Economic Analysis, even though the market was racked by recession that year. The state's manufacturing and health-care sectors each generated more than $20 billion in revenue in 2010.

"Aerospace defense and/or electronics manufacturing would make for much better Five C replacements today," ASU's Hoffman said.

"My sense is that most (gaming money) is spent by residents, so this is just a churn of local dollars."

Dennis Hoffman

a professor with Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business