Judge Blocks Plan for a New O’odham Casino

     PHOENIX (CN) – The Tohono O’odham Nation, which controls a 3 million-acre reservation in Arizona, must halt plans to build a casino in the suburbs of Glendale, a federal judge ruled.

     “Public interest is best served by maintaining the status quo,” U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell wrote Tuesday.
     In March, Campbell had paved the way for the casino by deciding that Arizona, Glendale, the Gila River Indian Community and 11 others had no basis to stop the United States from accepting a 54-acre parcel of land surrounded by Glendale into trust for the Tohono O’odham.
     Since Glendale “will forever lose its right to annex the land” once the U.S. Department of the Interior takes it into trust, Campbell found that the plaintiffs clearly showed irreparable harm.
     The imminent quality-of-life injuries will also be irreparable, according to the nine-page ruling.
     “As previously explained, because a major casino in Glendale will reduce the Community’s revenue from its own casinos, the taking of Parcel 2 into trust will cause the Community and its members to suffer injury,” Campbell wrote. “Plaintiffs assert, and the Nation does not dispute, that while the loss of casino revenue is economic, the Nation’s sovereign immunity would prevent the Community from recovering damages.
     The Tohono O’odham countered that they also face irreparable harm since Arizona could annex their land through a bill that was passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
     To prevent Glendale from annexing the land once House Bill 2534 becomes effective on July 20, Campbell broadened the injunction pending appeal so that it “will enjoin both the trust acquisition and the annexation of Parcel 2.”
     Campbell also granted the tribe a $500,000 bond to cover any damages “suffered by the Nation from the delay occasioned by the appeal.”
     The O’odham acquired the disputed property in a purchase of 135 acres from Delaware-based Rainier Resources in August 2003. Although the tribe already operates a casino on its reservation that braces the Arizona-Mexico border, it announced plans to build the new Glendale casino in January 2009.
     Glendale and the Gila River Indian Community claim the new O’odham casino would violate a voter-approved proposition that incorporated multiple provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and limited casinos to gaming facilities already on existing tribal lands.
     Last week, the Supreme Court said the O’odham can only litigate its dispute over the trust in one court at a time. The O’odham had sued federal officials for equitable relief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last March, and then sued the government for damages in the Court of Federal Claims. Neither court offers both types of relief requested by the O’odham, and the statute of limitations is running, but the Supreme Court said the tribe has to take on each battle one at a time.

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