updated 5/20/2004 8:44:50 AM ET 2004-05-20T12:44:50

Members of the Hopi tribe have rejected plans to build a casino in northeastern Arizona, choosing cultural customs over cold cash.

The referendum, which called for up to 500 slot machines on tribal trust land off the reservation near Winslow, was defeated 1,051 to 784 Wednesday night. There are 8,525 eligible voters.

Some tribal members said they believe gambling goes against Hopi cultural customs and would add another social ill to a community already plagued by alcoholism and crimes linked to drug abuse.

“Gaming is making money off other people’s bad habits and the Hopi way says we should not use other people’s bad habits to benefit,” tribal Vice Chairman Caleb Johnson said days before the vote.

But other Hopis said gaming money is an economic necessity and would put them on par with tribes that have used the added revenue for improved housing, education, health care and law enforcement.

“Certainly the Hopi Tribe is similar to all other tribes — they look to generate revenue,” said Hopi assistant general counsel Niccole Winship. “This was an opportunity for the tribe to do so. The members’ personal choices came out on top.”

A casino with 400 to 500 slot machines would have provided up to 500 jobs and could have generated $24 million annually, according to tribal officials.

That money would have offset losses the tribe expects from a decline in coal revenue over the next few years.

Hopis will lose $7.7 million — about 35 percent of their annual operating revenues — in yearly royalties from coal mined at the Peabody Coal Black Mesa mine if a Nevada power plant that uses the fuel shuts down.

There’s speculation that the 1,580-megawatt Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin could close at the end of 2005 because of the estimated $1 billion cost of retrofitting it to meet clean-air standards.

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