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The executive director of SAAF replies to our sports columnist's take on the Desert Diamond Casinos

(Editor's note: The management of Desert Diamond Casinos asked for an opportunity to reply to the March 28 "Pedersen on Sports" column. This commentary, submitted by Wendell Hicks of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, serves as their counterpoint. While the opinions of our columnists may not necessarily reflect that of the Weekly, its staff or parent company, we stand by the column.)

I've been in this town for going on six years, long enough to witness both Tucson's dramatic growth and the way the city maintains its caring and supportive sense of community.

As executive director of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, or SAAF, I count on that community spirit to help us continue providing vital health care support and prevention services. These are hard times for nonprofits and SAAF understands its role to the community, partners and clients. SAAF has been fortunate to join forces with strong partners like Desert Diamond Casinos and Entertainment.

An enterprise of the Tohono O'odham Nation, Desert Diamond Casinos has been a leading supporter in Southern Arizona through sponsorships and charitable donations for more than 25 years.

Throughout that time, they've built enduring relationships with dozens of the nonprofit organizations delivering vital services throughout our region, contributing millions of dollars toward efforts to improve the lives of Southern Arizonans.

This level of community support is unprecedented and is the result of Desert Diamond's amazing success as an entertainment destination. As anyone who has been to one of their facilities can tell you, the place is always packed—and for good reason. Desert Diamond Casinos offers the newest machines and the biggest payouts in Southern Arizona. Over the past two decades, they have proved they know how to do entertainment right at each of their three locations. It's what has made them into a local icon and a valuable partner.

The enterprise partners with state and local governments and charitable organizations, but the overwhelming purpose is to support the Tohono O'odham Nation. New homes are being built in place of abandoned and hazardous housing; communities that have never before had electricity and running water now have both. The Tohono O'odham Community College—one of only two tribal community colleges in the state—is expanding and increasing enrollment.

And tribal members are getting jobs. With internship and opportunities through the gaming operation, individuals are finding employment at the enterprise and supporting their families.

In fact, Desert Diamond Casinos and Entertainment is a leading employer in the region, one of the top-15 job providers in Southern Arizona. Operating full-scale facilities opens the door to employment for many community members with all skill levels and backgrounds—including highly trained individuals who are indeed considered experts in gaming, hospitality and entertainment. You don't, after all, become the regional leader in the industry without talented individuals leading the way.

SAAF continues to partner with Desert Diamond Casinos because of their commitment to the community. They have cultivated a broad and loyal following in Southern Arizona by delivering exactly what their guests are looking for, whether it's great music, award-winning food or exciting games.

There's something to be said for a business that caters directly to its audience. To me, it shows a strong business sense; it shows responsibility; it shows commitment—all traits I like to see in a community partner.

I know Desert Diamond Casinos and Entertainment is going to be around for a long time. I know this because I've seen their work and I've witnessed firsthand their dedication to Southern Arizona.

I am proud to call Tucson home and am even more proud to be partners with community leaders like Desert Diamond Casinos.

Let's join together and support those who support our community.

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