Tribe Sues Over Arizona’s Actions

In a possible last-ditch try to block the Tohono O'odham's $400 million under-construction casino in Glendale (l.), the state of Arizona told vendors working on the property and prospective employees they could face "issues." But the tribe is fighting back with a lawsuit claiming the governor, attorney general and gaming director are violating IGRA and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution

The six-year battle between the Tohono O’odham Nation and the state of Arizona continues. The tribe recently sued the state for refusing to certify tribal employees in an attempt to prevent the tribe’s 0 million West Valley Resort & Casino, already under construction in Glendale, from opening. The state has fought the Tohono O’odham since the tribe first announced in 2009 its plans for the casino which will provide more than 1,000 jobs.

The tribe claims Governor Doug Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Gaming Director Daniel Bergin are violating the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Its lawsuit disputes Bergin’s claim that state law allows the Arizona Department of Gaming to block the casino by refusing to certify vendors or employees or to approve the facility. Tribal Chairman Edward Manuel said, “They don’t want to certify any of the work. They don’t even want to inspect the facility to certify.”

The tribe is seeking a declaratory judgment that Arizona’s authority is preempted by federal law, that the state has no right to enforce sanctions on the casino and that it may not interfere with the casino’s opening later this year.

Brnovich’s office advised the gaming department in April that “in determining whether to certify the proposed casino, ADG is vested with the statutory discretion to determine whether the application is at odds with the public welfare and safety and/or is consistent with the thorough and fair regulation of gaming in Arizona.” Ducey also informed Bergin that evidence of fraudulent inducement would “be grounds for the denial of the regulatory approvals necessary to operate the proposed casino,” and said that Bergin should “communicate those grounds to the Nation at the earliest appropriate date.”

Manuel responded a series of decisions by federal courts and agencies have sided with the tribe in its claim the project does not violate the 13-year-old pact between the state and its Indian tribes over the number and location of gaming venues. He noted a Phoenix federal judge’s ruling in 2013 declared federal law and the state’s gambling compact allow the tribe to open the casino. He said, “Construction of the nation’s casino has been under way 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.”

The gaming department recently notified vendors that they could face certification issues if they work on casino construction. The state also plans to notify prospective employees that they may not work for an unauthorized gambling facility.

Manuel pointed out, “The irony here is that in their effort to try to stop this project, the state originally accused the nation of violating our 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.”