Arizona & O’odham Nation Settle Long-Running Casino Dispute

PHOENIX (CN) — The Tohono O’odham Nation and Arizona have ended their longstanding dispute over a casino outside Glendale, west of Phoenix and nearly 150 miles north of tribal headquarters.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, will allow the nation to expand its gaming at the Desert Diamond West Valley casino to include blackjack and slot machines. The casino opened in 2015, but was limited to bingo-style games after the state’s gaming director refused to certify vendors or employees, or approve the facility.

The nation has been tied up in legal proceedings over its decision to build the casino outside tribal land since 2011, when the state sued, claiming casinos could be built only on tribal land. The tribe’s main reservation covers nearly 3 million acres on the U.S.-Mexico border, with its headquarters in Sells.

“This is a day the nation has long been working toward. It establishes an agreement concerning the nation’s right to conduct Class III gaming on its West Valley land and it brings to an end the final dispute that was constraining this important project,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward Manuel said in a statement.

“The nation is eager to continue with its West Valley investment to create thousands of new jobs, positive economic development, and a world-class casino resort that all of Arizona can be proud of.”

Under the agreement, the tribe may not conduct gaming anywhere else in a certain geographical area, including metro Phoenix, for the life of the gaming compact or for the next 15 years. The O’odham also agreed not to request new reservation land from the Secretary of the Interior to be taken into trust for gaming.

Gov. Doug Ducey called the agreement “a major victory for Arizona, one that ensures that there are meaningful restrictions on additional casinos in the greater Phoenix metro area.”

The tribe, whose name means Desert People in their Uto-Aztecan language, bought the land near Glendale in 2003 through a Delaware corporation. It announced its plans to build the casino in 2009.

In the 2011 lawsuit, Arizona claimed the casino would violate the 2002 voter-approved Proposition 202. It said the law incorporated multiple provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and limited “casino-type gaming” to gaming facilities on existing tribal lands, “unless those lands qualify under an IGRA exception.”

But U.S. District Judge David Campbell ruled in favor of the tribe in May 2103, finding that a compact between the state and the nation required only “that one of the nation’s four casinos be operated at least 50 miles from Tucson, and that the casino have limited devices and tables.”

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, whose district is home to the Tohono O’odham Nation, praised the agreement as “gratifying.”

“After years of litigation, well over $10 million in legal fees, and federal legislative attempts by opponents to halt development, we can finally move on,” Grijalva said. “Despite the numerous attempts to halt the casino and millions upon millions of dollars spent in those failed efforts, the Tohono O’odham Nation has prevailed in court and Congress.”

The agreement is not yet available to the public, subject to a confidentiality agreement.

It must be approved by the Department of the Interior to take effect. If approved, it will settle all pending lawsuits between the state and the tribe.

Before the tribe reclaimed its name, the people were often referred to as Papago.

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