PHOENIX - Opponents of a proposed Las Vegas-style casino near Phoenix say a federal judge overlooked important evidence when ruling that the Tohono O'odham Nation's construction plan doesn't violate state gambling laws.
The legal team representing Arizona, the Gila River Indian Community and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community said in a motion for partial reconsideration filed this week that tribal leaders had once made public statements saying that state law did prohibit new casinos in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
"We think those disputed facts require a trial," said Mary O'Grady, an attorney representing the Salt River Tribe.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell said in a ruling last week that the Tohono O'odham Nation's plan to build a casino on the edge of Glendale was legal because the state's gambling compact approved by voters in 2002 did not contain language prohibiting new casino construction. Opponents insist the casino ban was implicit and part of the reason why voters approved the compact.
"No reasonable reading of the compact could lead a person to conclude that it prohibited new casinos in the Phoenix area," Campbell ruled. He also called for further evidence from both sides on the intent of the voter-approved compact by May 22.
The plaintiffs filed the suit in 2011 to stop the casino, saying it violates zoning and state laws and would disrupt residential neighborhoods near downtown Phoenix.
The Tohono O'odham Nation unveiled its plans for the massive resort and casino less than 50 miles from its existing reservation in 2009. The property was purchased after the 30,000-member tribe received a $30 million federal settlement to replace nearly 10,000 acres of ancestral reservation land damaged by a dam. The federal government declared the land a reservation in 2010 despite opposition from state and local officials who argued tribes shouldn't be allowed to turn any piece of property into a reservation.
Local officials claim the casino will require them to beef up fire, police and other civic requirements in an area not equipped to accommodate a resort better suited for the Las Vegas Strip. A high school is located a few blocks from where the casino is to be built. It would also sit about a mile from a retail and entertainment district where Phoenix's professional football and hockey teams play their home games.
The suburban property is in an unincorporated island of Maricopa County and bordered on three sides by the city of Glendale, which is adjacent to Phoenix.