Apparently Governor Doug Ducey has no problem throwing the City of Glendale under the bus. Recently he offered a settlement to the Tohono O’odham. Here is a link to Howard Fischer’s Capitol Times story: . In return for the state’s recognition of the Glendale casino as well as the state’s allowance of full Class III gaming at the Glendale casino the Governor wants the tribe in essence to promise not to build any other casinos in the metropolitan areas of  Phoenix and to limit gaming to the TO tribal land that existed in 2003. Gee, as a Glendale resident, I want to say, “Thank you, Governor.” The deal, in order to obtain buy-in from the other tribes, gives the tribes an increase gaming operations which means increased revenue for them.

The Tohono O’odham (TO) is reluctant to agree. They are betting that Judge Campbell, who is scheduled to hear arguments in mid-December on the TO’s lawsuit to compel the state to grant it Class III gaming, will rule in their favor. The TO assumes it will win this lawsuit and get Class III gaming in Glendale. The TO’s anticipated win of this current law suit allows them to retain the legal option to open casinos elsewhere in the Phoenix metro area.

A little refresher on history is needed. In 2002, the voters of the state approved a Gaming Compact between all tribes and the state for the purpose of gaming regulation at tribal casinos. The 2002 deal gave the tribes the exclusive right to conduct casino gaming in Arizona and was sold to voters on the promise that gambling would be restricted to existing reservations and that there would be no new casinos in the Phoenix area.

In the meantime, the TO, while actively encouraging voters to support the 2002 gaming compact, were already planning on breaching it. Prior to 2002 they were secretly and actively seeking land for the purpose of planting a casino in Maricopa County. Their original consideration was to purchase land in or around Buckeye. Buckeye dodged the bullet when the TO’s consultant opined that the site was too distant from the major urban centers of Phoenix. They settled on a county island in Glendale, close to city’s newly announced (in 2002) Westgate site as an entertainment district. They bought the land under a shell company and for seven years they kept it secret while Glendale invested millions of dollars into the development of Westgate. On the day in 2009, when they made their public announcement of their intent to build a casino in Glendale, they marched into city hall and in essence told the city they were coming and there was not a darned thing it could do about it.

For years, Glendale and the Salt River-Pima-Maricopa tribe and the Gila River tribe brought lawsuits against the Tohono O’odham. It has only been lately that Glendale’s city council dropped its opposition to the TO casino in return for 30 pieces of silver.

Here is the Arizona Republic’s latest editorial on the issue: .

Everyone , to this day, believes the TO’s West Valley casino was a breach of the spirit of the 2002 agreement with voters that created the plan for limited tribal gaming. The tribes believe the TO breached their trust. Over the past 8 years the TO has created controversy, innumerable legal battles, enormous cost and a great deal of distrust regarding its word to its sister tribes and the voters of the state.

The TO’s response has been to say that it wants to consider all proposals using the Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA). Here’s the rub. The Gila River Indian Community and the Salt River-Pima-Maricopa Indian Community resigned from the AIGA in May, 2016, saying, “actions of the Tohono O’odham Nation to secretly develop a casino in direct opposition to the promises made by AIGA and other tribes has destroyed AIGA’s unity and undermined the principles of the organization.” Obviously the TO’s suggestion is not going to happen but it certainly provides the TO with convenient cover.

What to make of this latest volley? It is clear that no one on this planet trusts the Tohono O’odham’s word.  The only reason the state is willing to grant the long-coveted Class III gambling license is because Governor Ducey wants a signed, legal document  (promise) from the TO that they will not build any more casinos in the greater Phoenix metro area. The TO’s word is worth nothing and their signature on a contract may not be worth much more (do you see future law suits?).

In the meantime the TO wants its cake and to eat it too. They are cocky. They’ve won nearly every law suit. They have convinced themselves they will win this latest one. If they do, they will get their Class III gaming without having to promise anyone that they will not build more casinos in Maricopa County. Uh, oh, watch out Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, et. al. A Tohono O’odham casino planted in your town may be in your future! Can anyone say, “Las Vegas?”

© Joyce Clark, 2016        


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