Conference Coverage: AIGA Expo 2023 a Resounding Success

AIGA 2023

The Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA) hosted its 2023 Expo, November 7-9, at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino. The Expo celebrates the success of the Arizona gaming industry and its tribal communities. Tribal leadership and gaming industry representatives met to discuss industry updates and participate in forums on topics relevant to tribal gaming and communities.

The event also included a Chefs Challenge featuring chefs from tribal enterprises around the State of Arizona, and a golf tournament at the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club. The three-day Expo played host to nearly 225 attendees who participated in discussions about tribal sovereignty, the history and future of tribal gaming, and the economic impact gaming continues to have.

The event also celebrated a milestone for tribal gaming in Arizona. Earlier this year, just over 20 years after the passage of Proposition 202, contributions to the Arizona Benefits Fund surpassed $2 billion. The revenue generated for the Fund supports education, emergency and trauma services, wildlife conservation, tourism, and other investments in the cities, towns, and counties of Arizona.

“For more than 30 years, tribes have had gaming on their lands,” said Judy Ferreira, AIGA’s Executive Director. “In 2002, Proposition 202 recognized a commitment by Arizonans to honor the sovereign rights of tribal nations for the exclusivity of gaming on Indian lands. That created opportunities to generate economic growth, including more than 23,000 jobs.”

Ferreira, and Robert Miguel, Chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community and AIGA, provided opening remarks for the Expo. Wednesday’s breakout sessions featured discussions on tribal sovereignty, education, and economic growth. An eagle from Liberty Wildlife welcomed Expo attendees into the trade show featuring AIGA partners and collaborators.

“The Expo celebrated the leaders whose visions brought gaming to their tribal lands for their people and a better future,” said Ferreira. “We also honored the history and the work of everyone who helped protect tribal gaming in Arizona so that sovereignty, partnership, and shared prosperity can
continue.”

The final day of the event featured a Tribal Leaders Symposium featuring Sherry Cordova, Chairwoman of the Cocopah Indian Tribe; Verlon Jose, Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation; and Bernadine Burnette, President of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. The panel was moderated by Jerold Altaha, Councilman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, who invited the leaders to share the impact that tribal gaming has had on their communities.

“From the outset, Arizona’s tribal leaders foresaw gaming as a potential avenue for economic growth, benefiting our communities,” said Chairman Miguel about the conference. “This foresight has since forged many bonds, alliances, and collaborations within Arizona and across Indian Country, further reinforcing our tribal governments and uplifting our economies.”

But the Expo was not all work. The event kicked off with the Desert Classic Golf Tournament at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes golf course. The world-class golf course offered magnificent views of the Arizona desert for the 76 golfers who teed off for the tournament under clear skies on a cool desert morning.

The following night, premier chefs from the outstanding resorts and restaurants from tribal enterprises created culinary masterpieces in a quest for the title of Best in Show and People’s Choice. The biggest winners were the attendees, who had the chance to sample dishes from some of the best chefs in the State of Arizona. Competitors included Chef David Dobransky, Paradise Casino; Chef Augustin Flores Jr., Talking Stick Resort; Chef Laura Gonzalez-Reyes, Desert Diamond Casino West Valley; Chef Edward Harris, Hon-Dah Resort Casino; Chef Miguel Lopez, Gila River Resort & Casino; Chef Alex Rivera, Bucky’s Casino; Chef Colin Ribble, Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino; and Chef David Salazar, Casino Del Sol.

Chef Laura Gonzalez-Reyes AIGA 2023
Chef Laura Gonzalez-Reyes (left) of Desert Diamond Casino West Valley, winner of Best in Show and the People’s Choice culinary awards at AIGA 2023.

When the forks were down, Chef Gonzalez-Reyes cleaned up with both awards for her mesquite slow-braised short ribs with blue corn polenta and pickled cholla buds. She adds those awards to her accolades, which include winning season 39 of the Food Network show “Chopped.”

The Ak-Chin Indian Community was the host and presenting sponsor for the Expo and earned praise for its hospitality and the recent expansion of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino.

“We are very happy with the success of the Expo,” said Chairman Miguel. “We were able to reflect on the trajectory of tribal gaming and visions for the future.”

For more information about the Arizona Indian Gaming Association, visit https://www.azindiangaming.org/.