Arizona Gaming Tribe Celebrates Centennial of Reservation

Arizona’s Tohono O’odham Nation is celebrating its centennial and the 30th anniversary of its first casino, Desert Diamond (l.) in Tucson. The tribe is also awaiting final resolution on court cases that will determine its future gaming activities.

During April the 28,000 members of the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona are celebrating and the centennial of the establishment of the tribe’s reservation as well as 30 years of gaming.

The tribe established Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment three decades ago and opened the Papago Bingo Hall in the Sonoran Desert. Six years later the satellite casino Why, Arizona opened, with the Sahuarita gaming house opening in 2001.

The most controversial of the tribe’s casinos is planned for Glendale, the West Valley Resort.

During April the tribe plans various celebrations, including the Million Dollar Diamond Spiniversary at each of the existing casinos.

The city of Glendale and the tribe, long at swords’ point over the proposed casino, have seen their relations improve ever since the Glendale city council voted recently to withdraw its opposition to the project, which has been in the works since 2009, but has been stalled by several court cases, and even by a pending bill in Congress.

The bill, approved by the House of Representatives, is now stuck in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. It would prevent casinos from being built in the Phoenix area on land that was put into trust after April of 2013. The tribe owns the only land that fits that definition.

Recently the council voted to oppose the bill, ending five years of bitter hostility that took the election of new members who don’t oppose the casino. Now that the council has withdrawn its objections, the city and the tribe will begin to negotiate an agreement between the two for delivery of city services and mitigation.

According to City Attorney Michael Bailey, the city staff will process the tribe’s needs as if it were any other development, assessing water, sewer and public safety needs. The difference is that the tribe will be able to go ahead with its project, whether or not the city likes it.

Meanwhile the courts are still reviewing a lawsuit filed by other opponents of the casino, including the state of Arizona, and several rival gaming tribes.

One lawsuit filed by the Gila River Indian Community and Glendale, argues that the land the tribe owns cannot be a reservation because it is surrounded by the city. A lower court ruled in the tribe’s favor, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asked that the Department of the Interior provide more detailed rationale for why it took the land into trust.

Another lawsuit, this one filed by the Gila River Indian Community and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, argues that the casino planned by the tribe would violate its compact with the state. The initial ruling sided with the Tohono O’odham, but that case was also appealed to the 9th Circuit. Now it is on hold pending a similar case before the U.S. Supreme Court. That case, involving in tribe in Michigan, has the potential to rewrite case law as to how Indian sovereignty is perceived.

It could affect the Tohono O’odham because previously three claims by Arizona were thrown out because of sovereign immunity.

So far, Glendale has spent $3.5 million fighting the tribe, and lost every time.