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Gila River Tribe: O'odham 'greed' spurs casino bid

Gila River Tribe: O'odham 'greed' spurs casino bid

PHOENIX - The Gila River Indian Community is funding a media campaign portraying the Tohono O'odham Nation as "greedy" for trying to build a casino adjacent to Glendale.

Radio ads running this week in the Phoenix area urge listeners to call state senators and ask them to approve legislation letting Glendale annex the site, effectively blocking the new casino. It accuses the Tohono O'odham of trying to "pull a fast one" and describes putting a casino near homes and a school as "crazy."

Listeners are not told who is paying for the commercial. It's sponsored by the Keeping the Promise Foundation, whose board is composed of two members of the Gila River Tribal Council and the tribe's contract lobbyist.

Jennifer Giff, the tribe's general counsel, said Wednesday that the tribe is just one contributor to the nonprofit foundation, but she did not identify other key funding sources.

Joseph Manuel, the tribe's lieutenant governor, said the foundation hopes to build public pressure to ensure the Tohono O'odham Nation keeps what he said was the promise made by tribes in 2002, when voters agreed to give them the exclusive right to conduct casino gaming in Arizona.

One of those promises, he said, was that there would be no additional casinos built in the Phoenix metropolitan area, which is one of the arguments for this initiative and against one pushed by owners of horse and dog tracks.

Manuel said the Tohono O'odham Nation's building a casino on 135 acres it bought in 2003 on the edge of Glendale would undermine that whole argument and open the door to others.

He defended the wording of the commercial.

"We want to remain positive about everything," Manuel said. "But we know that there is greed."

Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. called it "unfortunate that Gila River officials have chosen to engage in a smear campaign against a fellow tribe." And he chided them for pushing the legislation to block the casino "all in the name of protecting their market share."

The Tohono O'odham Nation fired its own salvo Wednesday in the public relations campaign, releasing a survey that claims heavy support of area residents for the project.

The specific question discusses a "West Valley Resort" with a 600 luxury rooms, "full-service spa and salon, swimming pools, convention and meeting space, a major casino, two lounges and an entertainment night club facility," shops and restaurants.

Of the 400 people questioned, 35 percent say it would be a very good project for the area, with another 33 percent saying it would be good.

Less than a quarter of those surveyed actually live in Glendale.

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