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Navajo Nation Votes to Relax Booze Restrictions

There’s little doubt that casinos have been a boon to Native Americans generally, and in our part of the Southwest specifically. Allowing legal gambling on reservations has given a much needed cash flow to what were once impoverished tribes. The Navajo Nation is no different, and they run several casinos in this part of the country. Now, the Navajo Council has voted, 9-7 to allow alcohol consumption at gaming tables, instead of just in casino restaurants.

It may seem like a trivial issue, but Native Americans are quite wary of alcohol generally, and with good reason. The social costs of alcohol consumption in this population are well known and both selling and drinking alcohol on reservation property is largely forbidden – except for the casinos.

The internal politics of expanding alcohol sales weren’t mentioned in reporting by AZ Central, but the vote tells us it wasn’t an easy change to get through. Arguing for drinking at the tables and slots, other casinos in Arizona allow it, and these represent the competition. Still, with almost an even split in the vote, it may have come down to adding additional funding for Tribal police. More alcohol may lead to more drunks and increased problems on the casino floor or for those driving on reservation property. All or any of these would necessitate a higher police presence.

On the up side, casino staff is already trained to spot drunks and cut them off. This wouldn’t change if gamblers are being served table-side. Of course, another predicted benefit would be to loosen the wallets of gamblers by way of providing lubrication. It’s a distasteful business for some though – aren’t we just catering too addictions here? Either problem gambling or alcoholism, it’s a matter of naming one’s poison. Debating the details doesn’t change the fundamental harm from gambling and booze.


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