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Red Tape Holding Up Arizona Tribal Casino

20 January 2011 by admin

arizona-casinoFor two years, the Tohono O’odham Nation has been trying to build a casino resort in Glendale, Arizona. Since then, they have been met with resistance, but not the normal kind of anti-gambling opposition that you expect. Much of the resistance has been in the form of red tape, specifically wondering who actually owns a portion of the land they have laid out for the resort.

The Native American tribe purchased a 135-acre piece of land in the West Valley region of Glendale, between 95th Avenue and Northern Avenue. They intend to turn the land into what they call a “mixed-use resort and entertainment facility, which will include a hotel, convention center and casino amenities.” According to Tribal Council Chairman Ned Norris Jr., the architecture of the resort is planned to compliment the architecture of the surrounding area, particularly the new University of Phoenix football stadium. That way the resort doesn’t stick out, like a Vegas-style casino might.

Arizona-casino-2The problem is that there is a disagreement about whether the Tohono O’odham Nation has the right to build the resort on all of that land. The Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act allows the Nation to purchase land and use it for tribal purposes, making it tribal land, as long as the Secretary of Interior takes the land into trust. According to Norris, the 135 acres for the planned West Valley Resort have already met that requirement.

Despite that, in June of 2009 the city of Glendale issued an injunction on the project, citing that 46 acres in the 135-acre property do not belong to the Tohono O’odham Nation. Back in 2002, the city annexed those 46 acres and then later that year – May 28, 2002 – the city de-annexed the property, making it once again un-owned private land. At least, that’s what they thought at the time. In 2009, in an effort to stop the construction of the resort, the city claimed that it had never de-annexed the land.

City Attorney Craig Tindall said in June of 2009 that “Arizona statute does not allow abandonment of an annexation after it is final. We are asserting jurisdiction over that 46 acres, which is roughly one-third of the property.”

So the city, which thought they had abandoned the property, now says that they had no legal standing to do so, which makes the property still belong to them. Since it’s theirs, it doesn’t belong to the Nation and the Nation cannot build their resort on that property.

The anti-resort members of the city government probably thought that would end the project, but it didn’t. On January 11, 2011, the Nation unveiled new plans for the West Valley Resort, which will now be a much smaller resort, since they lost 46 acres on which to build. The new plans only show Phase I of the construction process, which is the western 1/3 of the land, since that is the only land so far that the Department of Interior has taken into trust (after losing the 46 acres).

Norris has been meeting with local businesses, schools and organizations to make sure the resort fits into the community and is well received. He says that the completed resort would result in 3,000 permanent jobs and the construction would add 6,000 temporary jobs. He estimates that the resort could generate $300 million in taxes every year.

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