Judge sides with Tohono O'odham in casino fight

2013-05-07T13:27:00Z 2013-05-07T13:31:28Z Judge sides with Tohono O'odham in casino fightHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — A federal judge on Tuesday slapped down the latest efforts by the state to block the Tohono O'odham from building a casino on the edge of Glendale.

U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell threw out claims by Attorney General Tom Horne and two Maricopa County tribes that construction of a casino on the site violates the specific terms of the 2002 voter-approved deal allowing gaming on Indian reservations.

"The written compact contains no such limitation,'' Campbell wrote in his 28-page ruling. "The court concludes that the parties did not reach such an agreement and that the (Tohono) Nation's construction of a casino on the Glendale-area land will not violate the compact.''

Tuesday's ruling is a major setback for foes of the casino who had thrown every legal theory they could into the mix in a bid to stop construction of the casino by the tribe which is based in the Tucson area.

It also comes about six months after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a separate challenge by the state, ruled that Congress did not illegally allow the tribe to create a reservation on the land on the edge of Glendale. That ruling is important because the tribe needs reservation status to allow casino construction.

But Campbell, in Tuesday's ruling, did offer foes one glimmer of hope.

He said those challenging the casino contend that the Tohono Nation knew that the publicity surrounding the 2002 election clearly indicated "the voters understood there would be no such casino'' built in the Phoenix metro area.

In fact, Campbell said, the state and the other tribes say the Tohono "actively encouraged this understanding of the compact while secretly planning to build a casino.'' That was backed with notes taken by Tohono tribal council officials ahead of the 2002 vote about acquiring some land west of Phoenix, putting it into a shell company, and stressing the "need to keep it quiet'' during negotiations.

Campbell said he wants to hear more legal arguments before deciding whether this claim is legally sufficient to support a lawsuit to halt the casino.

The 2002 initiative pushed by a consortium of tribes gave them the exclusive right to operate casinos in the state in exchange for a share of the profits.

Of note in this case is that the measure was promoted as saying gaming would be limited to existing reservations, with specific limits on the number of casinos each tribe could possess.

Read the rest of this story in Wednesday's Star.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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