Arizona voters could get to decide next year if they want to be able to gamble closer to home.
An initiative petition drive launched late last week would allow private corporations to set up full-blown casinos in the state's major cities. The measure also would separately permit casino gaming at racetracks.
Initiative organizer Carl Nicholson said he already has promises of financial backing for the plan from what he said are some of the major players in gaming in nearby Nevada. He would not provide names; funding sources for ballot measures legally do not have to be made public until next summer.
But Nicholson said they have a good reason to back the plan: If approved, he said those who put up the cash would have first crack at getting the required state licenses.
He needs 172,809 valid signatures on petitions by July 5 to put the issue before voters next November.
Nicholson acknowledged that voters rejected off-reservation gaming nearly a decade ago, defeating a measure in 2002 to let the tracks have gaming machines.
Instead, voters adopted a plan to give tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos in exchange for a share of the profits.
Nicholson said, though, this plan would provide a better financial deal for the state. He said companies and tracks would pay twice as much in profits to the state than is now required of tribes.
If approved, the measure would not permit anyone to open a casino anywhere they wanted.
Aside from the gaming operations at tracks, Phoenix and Bullhead City each could have two casinos, with one each in Apache Junction, Lake Havasu City, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson and Yuma. There also could be a single casino located somewhere in Avondale, Goodyear or Litchfield Park.
He said cities would not have the power to reject a casino. But Nicholson said communities would not want to, as they would share in the revenues.