The Tohono O’odham Nation’s planned $300 million hotel-casino near Phoenix, Arizona, which has generated intense political and public attacks for more than two years, is strengthening the push for a federal policy change to off-reservation gambling, reported Gambling Compliance.
The U.S. District Court on March 3, 2011 approved the 134-acre tact of trust land and the Tohono O’odham’s plans to develop a casino on 54 acres near the University of Phoenix Stadium and Jobing.com Arena in Glendale. In another victorious legal decision for the tribe, on May 3, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Tohono O’odham Nation that its land is unincorporated, reported the Phoenix Business Journal. The ruling reversed a lower state court decision that in 2002 Glendale had annexed 45 acres within the nation’s present trust land. But days later, on May 10, the Glendale City Council voted 5-2 to appeal the state’s latest ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court, reported The Arizona Republic.
Adding to a tangled legal battle and city and state resistance, the casino is strongly opposed by local participants in a countrywide coalition of about 30 tribes. The Gila River and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian communities are seeking a revised federal policy to protect aboriginal lands, reported Gambling Compliance. The tribes contend Tohono O’odham’s proposal to establish trust lands in the Phoenix suburbs to build its Las Vegas-style resort casino would be an invasion on their ancestral territory.
When the Salt River community was established by executive order in 1879, the reservation encompassed the Glendale area, making it aboriginal land, according to tribal president Diane Enos.
“We definitely view this as encroachment of our ancestral lands,” Alia Maisonet, director of public relations for the Gila River Indian Community, told Gambling Compliance. “It’s [a proposed resort] smack-dab in the middle of our aboriginal homeland.”
The Gila River Indian Community also claims the project violates a state pact to not build any news casinos and opposes it on the grounds that it would detract business from nearby gaming facilities, reported azfamily.com. In 2002, Arizona residents voted in favor of a casino ballot initiative, which outlined the state’s gaming compacts with tribes and ensured no new tribal casinos in metro Phoenix, reported The Arizona Republic. In a letter to Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr., the Salt River community said the proposed casino “creates a very real and significant threat” to tribal gambling agreements or compacts with the state of Arizona, reported Gambling Compliance.
Norris released a statement calling the claims “lies, distortions and delays” to halt a project that would generate an estimated 6,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs in the Glendale area. In January, Norris told The Glendale Star that the nation projects an economic impact of $300 million annually with more than $100 million in taxes the first year.
The planned Glendale project exemplifies the diverse concerns surrounding “reservation shopping,” the push to build Indian casinos beyond existing reservations. The tribal coalition aims to tighten federal laws and U.S. Department of Interior policies to prevent tribes from establishing casinos on the aboriginal lands of other Indian nations, reported Gambling Compliance. “Reservation shopping is something a lot of tribes are concerned about, nationally,” Enos told the gambling industry news publication.
Currently fewer than 30 applications pend with the U.S. Department of Interior from tribes seeking to place off-reservation land in trust for casinos, reported Gambling Compliance.
Lawmakers have introduced amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to stifle the ability of tribes to place land in trust for casinos. On April 8, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, introduced the Tribal Gaming Eligibility Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona. “Our bill respects tribal sovereignty while addressing the rights and concerns of communities that may not welcome new casinos,” Feinstein wrote in a op-ed.
Gambling Compliance reported that many link Sen. Kyl’s support of the bill directly to the Tohono O’odham Indian Nation’s plans in Glendale.