PHOENIX — Glendale will get more than $25 million over the next two decades from the Tohono O’odham Nation in exchange for supporting the tribe’s plans for a casino on the city’s edge.
The deal, made public late Wednesday, provides an immediate $500,000 payment to the city within 10 days of approval, now set for this coming Tuesday.
In addition, once gaming starts, the city will get $1.4 million a year, with that increasing annually by 2 percent. And the tribe will provide another $100,000 a year to promote Glendale and the West Valley “as a premier destination for business and leisure travelers.”
Glendale Councilman Gary Sherwood said the pact is a good deal for the city. He said it not only provides a guaranteed source of cash but that the $550 million project anchored by a casino and hotel could help spur other development in the area.
But Mayor Jerry Weiers said, money or not, the city should never have agreed to the deal. He said there are legitimate reasons not to expand gaming into the area, including what he said was a promise to voters in 2002 to limit casinos to then-existing reservations.
But Weiers also said the city got a bad financial deal. “We should have done a whole lot better,” he said. “We could have done better.”
Weiers blamed the four council members for voting last month to drop their opposition to the casino. He said once they did that the city lost any bargaining leverage.
Sherwood, however, said advice council members got from an attorney who has handled similar deals suggests otherwise.
“This is precedent-setting ... for a municipality to actually get direct revenue from a tribal nation,” he said. Anyway, he said, given the inability of foes to get courts to block the casino, it’s not like the city is giving up all that much by agreeing to go along.
“They don’t need us right now,” he said. “They could have broken ground July 7.”
That was just days after federal officials gave the tribe permission to make the land it owns near Glendale part of the reservation, a necessary precursor to operating a casino there.
Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary of Indian affairs for the Department of Interior, said the tribe has met the requirements of a 1986 federal law letting it seek reservation status for the land. And he said there are no legal obstacles.
But a few other issues remain.
One involves ongoing claims by the state and other tribes that the 2002 voter-approved law giving tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos specifically limits gambling to reservations as they existed at that time. Foes of the tribe’s plan have said that was a promise made to voters.
But U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell noted there also is a provision that says gambling can be allowed on land taken into reservation “trust” by the U.S. Department of the Interior if it is part of a settlement of a land claim. And he noted a 1986 federal law gives the Tohono O’odham the right to buy land in Maricopa, Pinal or Pima counties in compensation for tribal lands near Gila Bend that had been flooded by a federal dam project.
Campbell said the question of whether voters thought they were limiting new casinos is legally irrelevant. That case is now at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The other potential legal hurdle is legislation passed by the U.S. House blocking gaming on that site until at least 2027. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake are sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate, but that has yet to be voted on.
Terms of the agreement aside, Weiers has another objection. He said it was not made public until late Wednesday and that city residents are not going to get a chance to review and comment on it before Tuesday’s vote.
In a prepared statement, tribal Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said the pact “demonstrates what’s possible when two parties sit down and work together for the benefit of their communities and the entire West Valley.”