What you need to know about the West Valley casino settlement
What is the Desert Diamond West Valley casino?
It's a temporary, 40,000-square-foot casino that opened in late 2015 by the Tohono O'odham Nation near Glendale's Westgate Entertainment District. The tribe is expected to build a full-scale casino and resort in the coming years.
What's the significance of the announcement of a settlement?
The announcement from the state and Tohono O'odham Nation means nearly a decade of legal battles and uncertainty over the West Valley casino is ending.
This means the tribe will move forward with plans for a resort and much larger casino in the near future.
The settlement allows the casino to obtain a higher-level gaming license — which means it can install Las Vegas-style slots and table games — and a liquor license.
The casino has operated sans alcohol, table games and real slot machines since 2015. Instead, it offered bingo-based slots, though they have the look and feel of traditional slot machines.
New games won't be available immediately. The U.S. Department of Interior must sign off on the agreement, and the tribe has to bring in new machines and re-certify its facility and employees for higher-level gaming. But the tribe said its working as quickly as it can.
Why is the casino controversial?
The Tohono O'odham Nation, whose reservation is near Tucson, secretly purchased the West Valley land in 2003, intending to build a casino. A year earlier, Arizona voters approved a gaming compact that limited the number of casinos and games, but gave Indian Country exclusive rights to Arizona's gambling industry.
The state believed these compacts prohibited any new casinos in the Valley. When the Tohono O'odham Nation revealed its intent to build Desert Diamond West Valley casino in 2009, havoc ensued.
The tribe believes it has the right to build the casino near Glendale because it purchased the land under an agreement with the federal government to replace a portion of the Tohono O'odham Reservation that was devastated by massive flooding from a government-installed dam.
The state disagreed. Officials accused the tribe of fraud because it never disclosed its intentions to build a new casino in the Phoenix metro area.
What were the lawsuits about?
After the 2009 casino announcement, several entities — including the state, rival tribes and Glendale — sued the tribe with the goal of permanently halting the casino project.
The longest-lasting of those suits was waged by the state and Salt River Pima-Maricopa and Gila River Indian communities in 2011.
The groups argued that the voter-approved compacts capped the number of casinos allowed in the Phoenix metro area.
A judge disagreed, and last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the West Valley casino complies with federal law and the gaming compact.
Prior to the conclusion of that lawsuit, the Tohono O'odham filed a separate lawsuit against the state because it refused to issue the tribe a Class III gaming license.
What does the state get out of the settlement?
The tribe gave the state assurance that it will not build another casino anywhere in the Phoenix metro area.
The settlement was also a critical step to allow Gov. Doug Ducey to move forward on a deal to amend Arizona’s tribal-gaming compacts.
Amending the compacts could boost proceeds to the state that flow from casinos. The state receives a portion of revenue from the casinos to help fund cities, towns and counties, education, trauma and emergency care, tourism and other efforts.
What are gaming compacts?
In 2002, Arizona voters approved a state-tribal compact, or agreement, between 21 tribes and the state government.
The compact allows the state to regulate Class III, or Las Vegas-style, gaming. It also limits the types and number of games allowed at casinos and requires the tribes to contribute one to eight percent of their gaming revenue to state and local governments.
As of May 2014, tribes had contributed an estimated $1 billion since 2003, according to the state Department of Gaming.
What happens next?
So far, 14 other tribes have signed the agreement to move forward with compact negotiations. There is not yet a timeline for that process, according to the governor's office.