An official from the Arizona Attorney General’s office said Wednesday the Tohono O’odham’s proposal to build a casino in the West Valley is a betrayal of the 9-year-old gaming compact between the state and the 17 tribes within it.
“The policy was clear,” said Deputy Chief Rick Bistow of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. “It forged a compromise between competing interests. It stated that there would be no new casinos in the Phoenix metropolitan area and every tribe agreed to it.”
Bistow was not the only one Wednesday to blast the tribe at the Glendale Chamber of Commerce power lunch in the Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa. The session included Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, Diane Enos, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Glendale City Attorney Craig Tindall.
At issue is the Tohono O’odham’s plan to build a casino near 91st and Northern avenues, an action that Bistow said would be a betrayal of the gaming compact of 2002.
“No one from the Tohono O’odham Nation mentioned they were eying a piece of property in the heart of Glendale,” he said. “They did not mention they intended to purchase that property and put a casino on it. The other tribes were left in the dark. The state was left in the dark. The people of Glendale were left in the dark. The Tohono O’odham allowed Proposition 202 to pass without saying a word.”
Enos said before the tribes negotiated with the state on 2002’s compact, they discussed terms internally with each other. Enos pointed out how less than a month after announcing the language of Proposition 202 in February 2002, the Tohono O’odham were forming Rainier Resources in Delaware, through which they would purchase the 134-acre parcel of land one year later.
“It is not easy for me to talk about the bad faith of who we consider brothers,” she said. “But we do not want to look back on this and wish we would have stood up and done something.”
Enos said the implications of the Tohono O’odham’s plans would be far-reaching.
“If this process plays out in their favor, there is nothing to stop them from purchasing more county islands and operating more casinos,” she said.
And it would go further than that, she said, because the creation of a casino in Glendale would mean the compact is broken.
“It would be the first step toward statewide gaming, and I think we have to ask ourselves if we really want that,” she said. “Do we really want Las Vegas-style gaming in Arizona?”
Franks said he agreed with Bistow, who stated he believes the Tohono O’odham had put their own profits ahead of the interests of the other members of the compact.
“There’s no simpler way to put it,” he said. “They have put profit above all other things. This is a demonstrated breach of integrity on the part of the Tohono O’odham Nation.”
Franks said the tactics used by the Tohono O’odham cannot be rewarded.
“It goes right to the heart of our ability as a people to make agreements in an environment of trust,” he said. “The Tohono O’odham government has broken that trust, not only with their fellow tribes but with their countrymen.”
Franks went on to promise he will do what he can at the federal level to keep the land from being moved into trust and converted into reservation land.
“A lot of us in Congress see this situation for what it is, and we are with you,” he said. “I can say to you today I am unequivocally committed to fighting this battle with you.”
Scruggs said she was happy the Glendale Chamber of Commerce chose the Tohono O’odham reservation and casino situation as its topic for the lunch and thankful for the opportunity to address the city’s concerns.
“It’s been a real challenge to get the serious facts out,” she said. “This is about so much more than whether it would be fun to have a casino nearby.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.