Bills to block casino near Glendale reintroduced

Peter Corbett
The Republic |
A rendering of the Tohono O'odham casino.
  • Arizona congressmen reintroduce legislation to block a $400 million West Valley casino
  • Keep the Promise Act would block new casinos in Maricopa County on non-contiguous reservation land
  • Construction at the site has started, with the grading of the land

Members of the Arizona congressional delegation have reintroduced legislation that would block construction of a $400 million tribal casino in the West Valley.

Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake said Wednesday they were again seeking passage of what they are calling the Keep the Promise Act in the U.S. Senate.

Reps. Trent Franks and Paul Gosar said Tuesday they submitted a companion bill in the U.S. House.

The legislation would prohibit construction of any new tribal casino on unincorporated land in Maricopa County that is not adjacent to an existing Indian reservation.

The immediate effect, if the bills were passed and signed by the president, would be to halt construction of the Tohono O'odham casino near Loop 101 and Northern Avenue. The tribe is based in southern Arizona but obtained the site north of the Westgate Entertainment District as part of a federal land settlement.

Grading of the casino site started late last year.

"Congress did not envision Indian gaming on the kinds of lands involved in the West Valley issue," McCain said.

Franks said the Tohono O'odham casino could set a precedent that would lead to "an expansion of off-reservation casinos."

The Gila River and Salt River tribes, along with the state, have long opposed the West Valley casino, and the legal battle continues. Both tribes have Valley casinos.

Tribal and state officials have argued that a 2002 Arizona gaming compact approved by state voters prohibited additional casinos in the Valley beyond the seven currently operating. Federal courts have ruled against that, however.

Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said the Tohono O'odham "cannot be allowed to break that promise after being party to our agreement with Arizona's voters."

Delbert Ray Sr., Salt River president, said passage of the legislation "will be beneficial to all tribes in Arizona and nationally."

Tohono O'odham leaders said the legislation is the third time the Gila River and Salt River tribes have tried to rewrite federal law to create a market monopoly for themselves.

Construction of the gaming facility is underway and will be completed by the fourth quarter of 2015, the tribe said in a statement.

"The courts have spoken, and this land is now part of the Tohono O'odham Nation's reservation," said Ned Norris Jr., the tribal chairman, in reference to the casino site along Northern Avenue.

Glendale spent nearly $3.5 million in legal fees fighting the casino for four years, starting in 2009.

This past summer, the Tohono O'odham Nation agreed to pay Glendale $26 million over 20 years after the city agreed to withdraw its opposition to the casino.

The Keep the Promise Act was introduced in each of the past two years but was not enacted.

In addition to hundreds of construction jobs, the Tohono O'odham expect the casino will create 500 permanent jobs initially and as many as 3,000 when the project is completed.