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Tucson could get a new casino
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Tucson could get a new casino

Tucson could get a new casino if the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the city reach an agreement — a first of its kind between the city and a tribe.

Tribal leaders want property they own in the city, near West Grant Road and Interstate 10, to be accepted into trust by the United States so they can build and operate a casino there.

The trust designation would mean the 14.38-acre property would become part of the Pascua Yaqui Reservation and governed by the tribe.

The property, adjacent to the original Yaqui Village , was home to a movie complex and once was the site of large drive-in theater.

The tribe anticipates 1.7 acres would continue to be used primarily for cultural and ceremonial purposes, with the remaining 12.68 acres for “economic or community development purposes,” records show.

Other possible developments, such as a hotel, retail center or housing project, are also noted in the proposed agreement, but those do not require the land to be in trust.

Assistant City Manager Albert Elias confirmed that anything other than a casino could be developed at the site under current entitlements.

The agreement between Tucson and the tribe is a “necessary first step” to getting the land into trust, he said.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the matter will be presented during the study session.

“There won’t be a vote, but an opportunity to learn more,” Elias said. “From a land-use point of view, it’s a great location and a very valuable piece of real estate.”

The proposed agreement would give the city a cut of revenue, and the city staff has recommended its approval.

The final approval for putting the site into trust would come from the federal government.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe bought the former Tucson 5 Drive-in, turned Century Park 16 theaters, in 2011 for $4.65 million, records from the Pima County Recorder’s Office show.

If the tribe wants to proceed with a casino, it has agreed to give the city 90 days notice before adopting a formal resolution.

After the first year of operation, a confidential study would be prepared to examine the financial impacts — if any — to Tucson stemming from the presence of the gaming facility.

Tribal leaders did not respond late last week to requests for an interview.

City would get money

The proposed intergovernmental agreement would define the relationship between the city and the tribe in the event the land becomes part of the Yaqui reservation.

For example, the tribe would agree to make “payments in lieu of tax” that are “for almost all currently predicted uses at the site.”

The tribe would agree to pay the city specific transaction privilege taxes based on revenue:

  • Retail, including liquor — 2.6%
  • Sale of prepared food, including liquor — 2%
  • Hotel rental — 6% plus $4 per room per 24-hour period
  • Amusement, such as movie theaters, video games or concerts — 2%
  • Gross proceeds of construction of new building — 2%
  • Rental to unrelated parties — 2%

The city would continue providing services such as law enforcement, fire protection and emergency services, traffic controls, trash/ recycling and transit.

Tucson police officers would be cross-deputized by the tribe in order to issue citations and make arrests or pursuits on tribal land.

The city would also continue to provide water service, but the tribe would provide water from its own resources if a gaming facility is built, the proposal says.

The tribe would take over operation and maintenance of all roads and streets within the site and would not be required to submit building plans for approval to the city.

But, the tribe would comply with all building and fire codes and allow the Tucson Fire Department to review plans for compliance and conduct walk-through inspections of the buildings after construction, the proposal says.

A city/tribe oversight group would be established to address any issues that arise and a law enforcement work group would address the “intricate issues involving law enforcement by city officers on tribal lands,” records show.

The city staff has recommended adopting the proposed agreement “as a beneficial way to address the concerns and opportunities presented by placing the site into trust while preserving and building upon the city’s longstanding and excellent relationship with the tribe.”

The casino would be the fifth in the greater Tucson area.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe operates Casino del Sol Resort, Spa and Conference Center at 5655 W. Valencia Road and Casino of the Sun at7406 S. Camino de Oeste.

The Tohono O’odham Tribe operates Desert Diamond Casino and Entertainment along Interstate 19 in the Sahuarita area and Desert Diamond Casino & Hotel at 7350 S. Nogales Highway.

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at On Facebook:

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