Glendale City Council Softens Stance on Tohono O’Odham Casino

by Dickinson Wright
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After years of losses in court and an estimated $3 million in legal fees, the Glendale, Arizona City Council appeared to ease its opposition to the location of an Indian casino in Glendale within the Phoenix metropolitan area and voted to begin formal negotiations with the Tohono O’odham Nation regarding the proposed West Valley Resort and Casino, which is projected to bring $300 million to the financially troubled city.

“We want to have a casino and resort near Glendale. It’s going to bring people into Glendale who will spend money, and we desperately need that. We’re so broke,” Councilwoman Norma Alvarez told local reporters. The City’s series of legal challenges and defeats, outlined below, have monopolized the City Council’s time and burned through its legal budget, and after a series of positive informal negotiations, the Tribe and the City appear closer to finding common ground.

The Council also decided in a narrow 4-3 vote to withdraw its support for HR 1410, Arizona Congressman Trent Franks’ federal legislation introduced to block construction of any tribal casinos in the Phoenix area, including the Glendale project, until 2027 when the existing Arizona gaming compacts expire. The withdrawal of the City’s support for Franks’ bill may ensure that the bill does not become law.

Glendale Casino Timeline:

1960: Federal dam projects flood large parts of the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation near Tucson.

October 20, 1986: Congress enacts the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act of 1986 to compensate the Tribe for its loss of land. Section 6(d) of the Act required the Secretary to accept land into trust in any of three counties, including Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and Glendale, but not “within the corporate limits of any city or town”.

November 27, 2001: City of Glendale adopts Ordinance No. 2229 annexing unincorporated Maricopa County land completely surrounded by the city of Glendale.

May 28, 2002: After a landowner’s challenge of the annexation in Arizona court, the City subsequently passes Ordinance no. 2258 “abandoning” the annexation.

November 5, 2002: Arizona voters pass Proposition 202 authorizing the State to enter into Class III gaming compact renegotiations with Indian tribes.

January 24, 2003: Secretary of the Interior approves Tohono O’odham Class III gaming compact.

August 21, 2003: Tribe anonymously purchases 135 acres of the unincorporated land within Glendale city limits, a prime casino location with access to the large Phoenix market.

January 28, 2009: Tribe submits application to Bureau of Indian Affairs to acquire 134.88 acres of Tribe’s Glendale land into trust status.

January 29, 2009: Tribe publicly announces intention to build a casino at the Glendale site. Casino opponents charge that the Tribe had promised to limit off-reservation gaming in metropolitan areas in talks prior to Proposition 202 and the 2003 compact.

June 23, 2009: To prevent the pending trust acquisition, the City adopts Ordinance No. 2688 deeming portions of the Tribe’s land to be incorporated into Glendale as of 2001, arguing that its own reversal of the 2001 annexation never became final.

March 10, 2010: Superior Court of Maricopa County grants summary judgment to City of Glendale holding that the 2001 annexation was valid and effective.

March 12, 2010: Tribe amends its trust application to ask BIA to proceed with 53.54 acres and hold the application for the annexed portions of the land in abeyance until the annexation issue was resolved.

July 23, 2010: U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Indian Affairs issues decision to accept 53.54 acres into trust, determining the land met all the requirements of the Gila Bend Act as the land is not “within” the city limits of Glendale, but withholds decisions on eligibility of the land for gaming.

February 3, 2011: Arizona Court of Appeals reverses the March 10, 2010, grant of summary judgment in favor of Glendale, holding that the 2001 annexation never became final and orders the City to pay Tribe’s legal fees.

March 3, 2011: U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona grants summary judgment in favor of the United States in challenge brought by the City of Glendale and Gila River Indian Community, concluding that the Secretary of the Interior reasonably applied the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act when he accepted the Glendale land into trust.

September 11, 2012: A split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirms the District Court’s March 3, 2011, order granting summary judgment to the United States in Gila River et al. v United States. The dissenting judge called the decision by the Secretary to accept the land “an extraordinary assertion of power.”

April 11, 2013: Congressman Franks introduces federal legislation, entitled “Keep the Promise Act of 2013,” prohibiting gaming on the Glendale land.

May 7, 2013: U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona rejects claims by State of Arizona that the Tribe’s 2002 gaming compacts prohibits new casinos in the Phoenix metropolitan area, rejecting the State’s claim that the Tribe misled voters in a ballot initiative allowing the compact and secretly planned to build in Glendale. The court orders additional briefing on the State’s claim that the Tribe breached an oral contract to not build the casino.

June 25, 2013: Arizona federal judge rules for the Tribe on the remaining breach of contract claims, holding that there was no agreement in the compact or enforceable oral agreement that the Tribe would not open a casino in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

July 9, 2013: Tohono O’odham Nation moves the Arizona federal court for an award of its attorney’s fees of over $4 million.

The support of the City and the defeat of HR 1410 in Congress would remove the most significant political hurdles for the Tribe. The prime location in Glendale and direct access to the large Phoenix market would guarantee success for the project. It would also guarantee fierce competition for the other tribal casinos already serving the lucrative Phoenix market.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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