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Executive director resigns from state gaming association

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PHOENIX - David LaSarte said he had a lot of sleepless nights the last four years and that it was an experience he would never want to go through again.

But the 32-year-old LaSarte, who resigned recently as executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association to become the head of his home tribe Coeur d'Alene Tribal Housing Authority in Idaho, leaves a legacy of success on the part of Arizona's 17 gaming tribes.

His was the public face on the landmark Proposition 202, which Arizona voters narrowly approved last year. That measure allows the casinos to operate in peace and not negotiate state compacts for the next 23 years in return for revenue sharing with the state ranging from 1 percent on the first $25 million in casino revenues to 8 percent if a casino takes in more than $100 million in a year.

"It was personally very stressful and I didn't get a lot of sleep during the lengthy period we worked on this," LaSarte said. "The payout was very offensive to a lot of the (tribal) people and it took a lot of talking to get people to live with it in return for the lengthy compacts and having a say about where that money goes in state government."

Under the formula, about 80 percent of the revenue-sharing money, which is expected to be about $95 million annually over the life of the agreement, will go toward public schools and emergency services and the rest will go toward local governments and other state programs.

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"The thing I'm most proud of is that the Proposition 202 experience guarantees that the tribes will go forward as a big political force. It sets the stage for them to play a large role in social policies and political issues in the future," LaSarte said.

But LaSarte's successor - more than 30 people have applied for the job and a new hire is expected by January - also likely will be spending a number of sleepless nights as the state racing industry continues to try to get the legal right to place slot machines at Arizona's race tracks.

Another measure on last year's state ballot, supported by the state racing industry, would have given the state hundreds of millions more dollars than Proposition 202. But voters soundly rejected that measure, fearing that it would open the door to full-scale gambling in the state.

"That whole fight with the racing industry is anything but over," LaSarte said. "They could go the legislative route to try to do this again or a ballot initiative or combine several strategies. But whoever does this job after me better be ready for it."

The Stanford-educated LaSarte said he has no political plans in the future despite a ringing endorsement of his political skills by Arizona tribal leaders in the midst of all the sensitive casino negotiations.

"It's my heart telling me to go back to Coeur d'Alene. We have the same problems with housing shortages that tribes have all over the country. I think I can help," LaSarte said.