Tohono O’odham Lawsuit Hearing Set For September 4

Federal District Court Judge David Campbell will hear arguments September 4 in the Tohono O'odham Nation's lawsuit against the state of Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich (l.) and state Gaming Department Director Daniel Bergin. The tribe wants the court to tell Bergin to “quit playing politics" with its $400 million casino under construction in Glendale.

On September 4, Federal District Court Judge David Campbell will begin hearings in the Tohono O’odham’s lawsuit against the state of Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and state Gaming Department Director Daniel Bergin. Construction is continuing on the tribe’s West Valley Casino complex in Glendale. The tribe stated the gaming department “is ignoring its clear obligations under federal law despite the fact that a federal district court has already ruled that the Nation’s project is fully authorized by the 2002 compact. Last February, ADG’s attorney confirmed that ADG would follow the Court’s decision and work with the Nation to provide the required certifications, but subsequent political pressure from Ducey and Brnovich caused ADG to reverse course and refuse to provide certifications for Class III gaming vendors and employees.” The tribe also requested an emergency injunction against the gaming department’s use of “unprecedented intimidation tactics against businesses and individuals who wish to work with the Nation’s West Valley Resort.”


Earlier, the Tohono O’odham issued a press release regarding its request to a federal court that it instruct the gaming department to “quit playing politics with the Nation’s West Valley project and the thousands of jobs it is creating.”  


In a statement, recently inaugurated Tohono O’odham Chairman Edward Manuel said, “In defying federal law and a District Court ruling, ADG and the governor have blatantly exceeded their authority. Construction of the Nation’s casino has been underway for 10 months and this extreme political effort to stop this important project cannot be allowed. Arizona communities, businesses and workers support this project and the Nation remains committed to making sure it moves forward.” 


Manuel noted “the irony” that the state originally accused the tribe of violating its compact. “Now that a federal court has confirmed that the compact allows the Nation to operate the West Valley Resort, the state refuses to abide by that decision,” he stated.


Manuel said he hopes to meet with West Valley city council members and mayors who support the tribe’s casino project. He added he expects the federal court to “rule in the Nation’s favor,” based on all the prior court decisions in favor of the tribe, including Campbell’s May 7 decision upholding the tribe’s right to build a casino. Campbell wrote there was no written agreement not to build the casino in the 2002 compact. “Plaintiffs claim that the Nation and the state agreed there would be no new casinos in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The written compact contains no such limitation. It does not prohibit the Nation from building a new casino in the Phoenix area. As a result, the Court concludes that the parties did not reach such an agreement and that the Nation’s construction of a casino on the Glendale-area land will not violate the compact.”


Ward Simpson, a principal in RLB Summit and the project coordinator, said, “ It’s a challenging project with all these entities trying to stop the project. We’re trying to get it completed as soon as possible.” Simpson said the casino is on track to open by the end of the year but acknowledged “something else could always happen.”He added the letter sent by the state, noting it would not issue a gaming license for the casino, was “kind of curious” and “really disturbing.” He said it was “not about principles” but about politicians bowing to their constituents and campaign donors. “You’d think there are higher principles involved. It’s hurting a lot of people, people looking for jobs, the Tohono O’odham people,” Simpson said.


In its most recent statement, the tribe said, “Sixteen straight decisions by courts and federal agencies have supported the Nation’s right to move forward. After receiving full approval to move forward, the Nation broke ground on its gaming facility last August and is moving toward completion and opening later this year. The Nation is already investing more than $200 million into construction this year, and more than 50 companies and 1,300 workers are being retained with the project.”The development is expected to have a total cost of $400 million when completed.


The statement concluded, “ADG’s subservience to this political pressure, especially given the previous federal decisions confirming the Nation’s right to open the West Valley Resort, calls into question whether it is truly an independent regulatory agency or just a political shill for the governor.”


Based in Sells, Arizona, the Tohono O’odham is developing the casino resort on a 54-acre parcel in unincorporated Maricopa County, surrounded by the city of Glendale. The tribe purchased the land with funds it received as damages from the federal government caused by the building of the Painted Rock Dam that destroyed tribal land. The Department of Interior took the land under federal trust status last year. Glendale and other towns that would benefit from the project with new jobs for residents have endorsed the casino. Others with casinos have opposed it.