Mirroring the state economy, the amount of money Arizonans are spending at tribal casinos continues to slide.
New figures Wednesday from the Arizona Department of Gaming show the revenues tribes shared with the state for the last quarter of 2008 were less than $12.8 million. That compares with more than 15.2 million for the same period a year earlier.
The tribes do not share actual gaming "handles" with the public. The only thing released is a once-a-year tally of gross profit figures, income after paying out winnings but before expenses. It's not broken down by tribe.
That makes the amount shared with the state - a variable percentage of what each tribe makes - the best indication of trends.
Wendell Long, chief executive of Sol Casinos, operated by the Pascua Yaqui tribe, said the decline is not a surprise given the rising unemployment rate and uncertainty about the long-term economic outlook.
"We're in the entertainment industry," Long said. "We rely 100 percent on discretionary income. No one has to go gamble."
He said tribes, unlike some Las Vegas casinos, do not rely on "high rollers" for their revenues.
"They're the average Joe," he said, people who, if they have the money, will spend some of it on gaming.
Long said his casinos are taking proactive steps to try to keep their customers.
"We've been loosening up some of our slot machines," he said, adjusting their computer programs so they pay out more. "If you loosen them, the players have a better experience and play longer."
The changes are not limited to the machines. Long said the casinos have added some "value meals" to some of their restaurants.
All that, however, may not prevent further slides in tribal gaming if the economy gets worse.
"That's the scary thing: We don't know what's going to happen in the next year," Long said.
He noted predictions of the unemployment rate approaching or maybe even topping 10 percent. Long said if people don't have a job, they won't be visiting the casinos.
"That would be scary for us," he said.
The requirement of tribes to share revenues with the states goes back to a 2002 initiative that gave Indians the exclusive right to operate casinos in Arizona.
That measure requires tribes to share 1 percent of the first $25 million in "net win" each year. That is what is left after gamblers collect their winnings but before other expenses.
Arizona receives 3 percent of the next $50 million, 6 percent of the next $25 million and 8 percent of anything more than $100 million a year.