Arizona Lawmakers Clash Over Bill to Bar Tohono O'odham Nation From Building Off-Reservation Casino
PHOENIX, Arizona—Accusations of lying and dishonest actions from both opponents and supporters stem from plans to build a casino near Glendale, Arizona.
On June 19, the U.S. House voted 342-78 to pass a bill that would prevent the Tohono O'odham Nation from building the proposed casino located more than 100 miles from the tribe’s reservation in Southern Arizona.
A day earlier, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona, told the U.S. House the Tohono O’odham was “reservation shopping” and accused them of being dishonest regarding a "promise" to support a 2002 state referendum—Proposition 202—that would limit casinos in the Phoenix area.
“Prop 202” was established through a statewide voter referendum in 2002 that "authorizes agreements between Arizona tribes and the State to allow for the continuation of limited, regulated gaming on tribal lands."
Arizona Republicans Reps. David Schweikert and Paul Gosar stated they do not support the construction of another casino for several reasons. They said the tribe shared false claims about the creation of 6,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent, and ongoing service jobs were exaggerated and based on biased studies funded by the tribe.
An emotional Schweikert pounded upon the podium stating he was in the room with dozens of Arizona tribal leaders back in 2002 when they spent hours crafting and discussing the state gaming compact.
Schweikert said he could not believe the Tohono O’odham Nation would sit at the table in support of the gaming compact, yet were already planning the proposed casino in question in the location.
“..[T]he cascade begins and this isn’t just for Arizona it will be all over the country. I promise you in a few years you’ll wake up and my state will be a statewide gaming state.”
However, opponents of Franks' bill said loss of jobs wasn’t the only concern.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, added that federal taxpayers eventually could be liable for the tribe's lost income.
One Arizona leader, Rep. Raul Grijalva-D, said this bill was another example of “Congress breaking its word to Indian country once again.”
Rep. Grijalva, a democrat, also said, “Enactment of this legislation would also set a dangerous precedence in which Congress could unilaterally alter the terms of a federal settlement years later. If this is the case that would stop Congress from revisiting any settlements over the years, then all settlements are open for review.”
Grijalva claims the opponents are wealthy gaming tribes trying to protect the "monopoly" he claims they hold on gaming in the Valley and were part of lies and public relations campaigns to prevent economic opportunities the Tohono O’odham rightfully deserved.
Gov. Gregory Mendoza said the tribal community was grateful for the vote that will hold the Tohono O’odham Nation “accountable to the promise made in 2002 between all Indian tribes and Arizona’s voters: To have gaming only on traditional tribal lands while, in return, keeping casinos out of neighborhoods and away from homes, schools and places of worship.”
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Diane Enos says the bill will "ensure the integrity of the existing tribal-state gaming compacts.
“The passage of H.R. 2938 clarifies that land taken into trust by the Tohono O'odham Nation in the Phoenix metro area cannot be used for gaming purposes. This is consistent with the gaming policy agreed to by tribal leaders, local officials throughout the state, and the State of Arizona itself.”
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa, Gila River Indian Community, Ak-Chin Indian Community and Tohono O’odham Nation are sister-tribes from Southern Arizona.
Traditionally, the four sister tribes—while distinct in language and culture—share a bond and claim each other as "relatives" and embrace the philosophy of Himdaag, or a way of life.
Despite the vote, the Tohono O'odham countered that the compact does not include that limit regarding casinos and said that numerous rulings in federal courts back their position regarding the Tohono O’odham Nation’s West Valley Resort Project.
The West Valley Resort will be located at 95th and Northern avenues. The West Valley Resort Project claims $300 million in annual economic impact.
The property was purchased with funding provided by a settlement that compensated the Tohono O’odham Nation for flooding on its land by the Army Corps of Engineers when they built a federal dam in 1960.
Part of the settlement included $30 million which was to be used to purchase up to 9,880 acres of new reservation land in Pima, Pinal or Maricopa counties.
The tribe then purchased 135 acres in Maricopa County near Glendale. In 2009, the tribe asked the Interior Department’s approval to create a reservation with plans to build a casino.
“Every other matter raised in the debate over this bill has either already been resolved or is presently before the courts. The opposition’s central argument against the project is currently before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and there are several other current federal cases addressing other issues,” said Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris, Jr.
There have been a total of eight courts and federal agency rulings already, and each time the rulings have been in the Nation’s favor. Since court after court has ruled that the Nation is following the rules, the opposition is now trying to change the law in order to protect their marketshare, Norris claimed.
However, Glendale city officials estimated it would cost them several millions a year to provide police and public safety around the proposed casino.
Mayor Elaine Scruggs said the Glendale City council passed a resolution in 2009 “expressing the city’s opposition” after considering the social, financial and legal impacts of removing the land from all state and local jurisdiction.
“Despite all the rhetoric about vast amounts of money projected to be coming to our city, there will be no tax revenue from the casino or any other development on the site if the land has been taken into federal trust and converted into an Indian reservation.”