Senate committee passes bill to block casino near Glendale
WASHINGTON — As construction continues on a $200 million tribal casino near Glendale, Congress took another step Wednesday to block the project.
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed by voice vote legislation sponsored by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain that proponents say would strengthen an agreement between Arizona tribes and the state limiting the number of casinos in the Phoenix area. The measure would block the Tohono O'odham Nation's construction of the casino.
The House Natural Resources Committee passed identical legislation last month. Both bills are now eligible for floor action.
The House bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Trent Franks, R-Peoria, and co-sponsored by Arizona Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Prescott, David Schweikert of Fountain Hills, and Matt Salmon of Mesa, and Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff. Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is the lone co-sponsor of the Senate bill.
The Senate committee approved the "Keep the Promise Act of 2015" after brief comments from McCain and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
McCain said building another casino in the Phoenix area violates the intent of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. "I know what the intent of Congress was because I wrote the bill," McCain said.
He said the law doesn't allow a tribe to "air drop" a casino onto land in a metro area that's not part of its traditional tribal lands.
The Tohono O'odham Reservation is located in south-central Arizona. But federal legislation granted the tribe the right to acquire property where the casino is being built. That law paid the tribe $30 million to compensate it for 9,880 acres of tribal land.
Tester said he feared that not allowing the Tohono O'odham Nation to build the casino on legally acquired tribal land "could have a dangerous effect on future" land deals between the federal government and tribes.
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State officials say the tribe committed fraud in negotiating its state gaming compact in 2002 because it did not reveal its intentions to open a West Valley casino.
Daniel Bergin, Arizona Department of Gaming director, wrote in a letter to the Tohono O'odham Nation that he would not allow the casino to open. Gov. Doug Ducey said in a letter that he supports that position.
The 129,000-square-foot casino is creating 1,300 construction jobs and, once open, the casino would create 600 jobs.
Tribal leaders said last week that construction would continue while they consider legal options.
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