The Tohono O’odham Nation has sued the state of Arizona over a partially-built casino outside of Phoenix, asking that it and gaming department officials be enjoined from trying to prevent the big project from opening.
The West Valley Resort project, in the works since 2009, has been the subject of many court rulings over the years, many upholding the Tohono O’odham tribe’s right to build the gaming facility. According to the suit, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) upped the ante earlier this year, "alleging that the tribe committed fraud under the state's 2002 gaming compact, due to a promise not to build the casino."
The governor’s press secretary did not return ICTMN’s request for comment by deadline. And according to news reports, he had had no immediate comment after the suit was filed.
Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward Manuel issued a statement that said, “In defying federal law and a District Court ruling, [the Arizona Department of Gaming] and the governor have blatantly exceeded their authority. Construction of the Nation’s casino has been underway for ten months and this extreme political effort to stop this important project cannot be allowed.”
According to news reports, $200 million has already been spent on the casino, which is projected to have a total cost of $400 million.
The tribe is based in Sells, Ariz., west of Tucson, but owns a 54 acre parcel of land in unincorporated Maricopa County surrounded by the town of Glendale. The parcel was bought by the tribe with funds it received as damages from the federal government caused by the building of the Painted Rock Dam that destroyed tribal land. The parcel was given trust land status last year by the Department of the Interior.
Meanwhile local towns like Glendale, which would see additional jobs for residents from the new casino, have endorsed the project, while neighboring tribes with casinos that might suffer from the competition, have lined up against it.
In the suit, the tribe says the defendants, including Gov. Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and Daniel Bergin, head of the state gaming department, “now seek to throw a new roadblock in the path of the Nation’s project. At the behest of the other defendants, defendant Bergin, as director of the Arizona Department of Gaming, has taken the extraordinary position that state law permits ADG to attempt to block Class III gaming at the West Valley Resort by refusing to certify vendors or employees or to approve the facility.”
The tribe noted in the court filing, “Bergin has informed the Nation that the state, and therefore ADG, takes the position that the Nation committed ‘fraud’ in the negotiation of the Compact; for that reason, ADG refuses to issue certifications and approvals relating to the West Valley Resort, even though IGRA (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) and the Compact expressly authorize the project.”
The suit, filed in the United States District Court of Arizona, noted that the District Court has previously ruled in favor of the tribe’s right to open the project, saying “the State and its allies have left no stone unturned in an effort to deprive the Nation of its right to engage in Class III gaming at the West Valley Resort.”
District Court Judge David Campbell upheld the Nation’s right to build a casino on May 7. Campbell’s decision says that there is no written agreement not to build the casino in the 2002 compact, yet the state appears to act against this ruling. Judge Campbell wrote, “Plaintiffs claim that the Nation and the state agreed there would be no new casinos in the Phoenix metropolitan area…the written Compact contains no such limitation. It does not prohibit the Nation from building a new casino in the Phoenix area…As a result, the Court concludes that the parties did not reach such an agreement and that the Nation’s construction of a casino on the Glendale-area land will not violate the Compact.”