Arizona City Softens Casino Opposition

The city of Glendale, Arizona once fought to keep the Tohono O’odham tribe from developing a casino in the community. Some members of City Council are now seeing the possible benefits. They now oppose a bill by Congressman Trent Franks (l.) that would prevent a casino from being developed.

Gila River Indians join opposition

Glendale, Arizona’s City Council last month voted 4-3 to oppose a bill that would block the Tohono O’odham Indians from building a casino there.

According to the Arizona Republic, the vote is a turnabout for the city, which in the past has strenuously opposed the development of a tribal casino. Until recently, the prevailing opinion was that a casino would hurt local businesses, decrease sales-tax revenue and require more city services.

Now council members are seeing the upside. Members Gary Sherwood, Norma Alvarez, Ian Hugh and Samuel Chavira have united to vote against the bill, introduced by Congressman Trent Franks, which would alter a 1986 settlement between Congress and the Tohono O’odham Nation.

According to the Glendale Star, the original act allowed the tribe to purchase up to 9,880 acres of land to replace land that was prone to flooding after the federal government built a dam there in the 1980s. A 750-acre tract owned by the Tohono O’odham was destroyed by flooding.

Councilmember Manny Martinez, who voted against the resolution, continues to oppose a casino. “I have been against this since day one because of the economic impact on the city,” Martinez said. “This is something that is not in the best interests of the citizens.”

But the citizenry spoke out mostly in favor of negotiations with the Tohono O’odham. “I support the West Valley Resort and Casino because it will attract more visitors to the area and will create thousands of jobs,” said Glendale resident Lauren Tolmachoff. “Citizens are overwhelmingly in favor of the casino and this council should not spend any more money fighting this casino.”

Members of the construction industry also spoke in favor of the casino because of the jobs it will bring to the community. “We have lost over 200,000 construction jobs and numerous businesses have closed,” said David Jones, president of the Arizona Contractors Association. “This deal would bring 6,000 construction jobs and over 3,000 permanent jobs to the West Valley.”

Mayor Jerry Weiers, who voted against the resolution, expressed concern about the city’s new direction. “If this ends up being built on the county island in Glendale, I think legislators are going to push to open up casino gambling in Arizona,” he said. “If that happens, the state will gain revenue but the Indians will lose. Once you are driving a Cadillac, it is tough to go back to a Yugo.”

Franks’ bill would block casinos from opening on land within metro Phoenix designated as reservation territory after April 2013.

In the wake of the vote, Gila River Indian Community Governor Gregory Mendoza issued a statement opposing “this facility and to the string of fictions its salesmen continue to use.”

“The Gila River Indian Community, joined by all this proposal’s many opponents, will continue to do everything possible to keep Glendale and its sister cities across the Valley safe from casinos,” the statement continued. “We continue to urge the City of Glendale to treat every promise made by the Nation with a high degree of skepticism, and to continue the City’s official opposition to the Tohono O’Odham neighborhood casino.”