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Tohono O’Odham overcome key hurdle in Glendale casino

By Jonathan J. Cooper
Phoenix, Arizona (AP) July 2010

A southern Arizona tribe has overcome a key hurdle in its bid to build a Las Vegas-style hotel and casino in suburban Phoenix, but it still needs permission to allow gambling on the site.

The U.S. Department of Interior announced July 23 it would take into trust 54 acres of unincorporated land near Glendale, a move that makes the land part of the Tohono O’Odham tribe’s reservation.

“We’re pleased with this decision and we look forward to the next step in the process,” tribe Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. said.

The project has sparked controversy because the tribe seeks to build a casino in the Phoenix metro area and about 40 miles from its nearest existing reservation land.

The City of Glendale opposes the project, saying the casino is being imposed without input. The city had argued that the land cannot be added to the tribe’s reservation because it is surrounded by Glendale on three sides and within the city’s planning zone.

In a letter to tribe officials, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk wrote that Arizona law does not support a finding that the land is part of Glendale and therefore ineligible to be a reservation.

The letter leaves open a question about whether the land meets the stricter requirements for operating a casino.

Federal law does not allow casinos on new reservation land except in certain narrow circumstances.

The Tohono O’Odham Nation argues that one of those narrow circumstances applies in this case: A provision allowing casinos on land acquired as part of the settlement of a land claim.

A separate federal law authorizes the tribe to add nearly 10,000 acres of land to its reservation as compensation for land flooded after a dam was built near the town of Gila Bend.

The Gila River Indian Community, which operates the nearest competing casino, also opposes the project, arguing that it could impact gaming compacts affecting all tribes.

Tohono O’Odham officials deny they’re imposing the casino on Glendale, saying they have tried to reach out to the city but officials have been uncooperative. They also deny the casino would affect gaming compacts.

Glendale spokeswoman Julie Frisoni declined to comment on the ruling until the city’s attorneys could review it.




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