Arizona Casino Could Be in Courts for Years

It’s been two months since Arizona’s Tohono O’odham Nation broke ground on the site of their proposed casino resort near Glendale, Arizona. Some speculate that it could be many years before they finish the project.

Although the Tohono O’odham Nation broke ground in August on their proposed West Valley Resort and Casino next to Glendale, Arizona, it may be years before they are actually able to start operating it.

Besides being in a county “island” next to Glendale, the proposed resort is also near Phoenix, which is the reason for the location. The property the tribe purchased 11 years ago with money awarded to them as compensation for their original reservation being inundated by a federal dam project is actually about 100 miles from their Tucson reservation.

Several fellow gaming tribes oppose the Tohono project because, they claim, it violates the gaming compact that all of the state’s gaming tribes signed and which the voters approved in 2002. That compact was supposed to limit the number of casinos that would be allowed in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix.

According to Diane Enos, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, who was interviewed by KJZZ news,  “The proposal by the Tohono O’odham Nation’s West Valley Casino is a direct violation of the spirit of the compact.”  

The compact was approved before anyone became aware that the Tohono tribe was interested in purchasing the land, which they bought through a shell company. In fact, opponents accuse of the tribe of keeping that fact a secret until after the compact was approved. “That’s really a critical piece here. The fact that we all relied on their promises is the point here with the misrepresentation,” said Enos.

The Tohono tribe disputes that, claiming that in the 1990s it informed other tribes that it intended to buy land near Phoenix for a casino. It adds that it used a shell company to keep the price of the land from being pushed up.

Enos notes that the compact includes a provision that could allow commercial gaming in the state if the terms of the compact are violated. She considers what the Tohono are doing a violation.

“The Tohono O’odham have learned very well from the non-Indians, the federal government, the United States, how you do Indian people dirty and then smile at the same time,” she told KJZZ.

So far the Tohono have fended off all comers in the courts, winning something like a dozen rulings. But some legal scholars claim that federal law preventing land acquired after 1988 from being put into trust could eventually stop the casino. However, the tribe purchased the land using funds given to them to make up for losing their original reservation.

Glendale council member Gary Sherwood points out that despite the groundbreaking of two months ago that nothing else has happened. “We’re just looking at a bunch of weeds,” he said recently. “I’m guessing they’re going to actually start grading the land by early November,” he said. “They’ve already been watering it.”

At the groundbreaking Tohono Chairman Ned Norris touted the project’s job creating powers, claiming that 3,000 permanent jobs will be created.

Enos discounts that number, claiming that too many casinos will glut the market. “There are only so many customers,” she says.