Sneak peek at Desert Diamond Casino West Valley. Here’s a look inside the new gambling facility near Glendale.
The Tohono O’odham Nation and the state of Arizona are poised to end a long-standing legal battle over a West Valley casino mired in controversy.
The settlement, announced Wednesday by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Tohono O’odham Nation, allows the Desert Diamond West Valley casino near Glendale to operate as a Las Vegas-style casino by expanding the types of games it can offer to include traditional slot machines and table games like blackjack.
In return, the tribe agreed to not build another casino in the Phoenix Metro area.
The casino opened in 2015 with limited types of bingo-based slot machines amid acrimony with some state and federal officials.
Those officials have asserted the tribe acted in bad faith by secretly buying land in the West Valley and not disclosing its intention to open a casino, which triggered years of legal battles.
The settlement will end all lawsuits and conclude eight years of uncertainty about the West Valley casino’s future.
Components of the deal must be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Federal officials will have 45 days to sign off on portions of the agreement, according to Governor’s Office staffers.
The agreement lasts for the remainder of the nation’s tribal-gaming compact — until 2026, according to Ducey’s office — and would be part of any future compact. But, the agreement could be undone if the state Legislature or Congress pass legislation preventing gaming on the West Valley land.
Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation have previously attempted to quash the new casino through a bill dubbed the “Keep the Promise Act.” Those efforts have not advanced.
Agreement helps compact deal
The state’s agreement with the Tohono O’odham Nation is a critical step to allow Ducey, a Republican governor, to move forward on a deal to amend Arizona’s tribal-gaming compacts.
Amending the compacts could boost proceeds to the state that flow from casinos. The state receives a portion of revenue from the casinos to help fund cities, towns and counties, education, trauma and emergency care, tourism and other efforts.
As of May 2014, tribes had contributed an estimated $1 billion since 2003, according to the state Department of Gaming.
Other tribes have signed agreements that restrict additional casinos in the Phoenix Metro area but allow an increased number of certain games at their existing facilities, including poker and blackjack.
In a prepared statement, Ducey cast the agreement as a “major victory” that ensures restrictions on additional casinos in the Valley while allowing for renegotiation of the compacts.
“I am eager to continue meeting with gaming tribes to discuss how we can modernize the tribal-state gaming compacts and create positive economic opportunities for all Arizonans,” Ducey’s statement said.
Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward D. Manuel said in a statement released by the Governor’s Office that the agreement “brings to an end the final dispute that was constraining this important project.”
“The Nation is eager to continue with its West Valley development and a world-class casino resort that all of Arizona can be proud of,” the chairman’s statement said.
It’s unclear how other tribes who have had contentious dealings with the Tohono O’odham Nation will respond to the settlement.
Sixteen Native American tribes operate 23 Class 3 casinos — those casinos with the broadest types of gambling options — throughout the state, according to the state Department of Gaming.
Last November, Ducey began signing agreements with Arizona Indian tribes to renegotiate the gaming compacts approved by voters in 2002. At the time, he said changes were needed to reflect the state’s evolving gaming market, as well as new technology and new games. So far, 14 tribes have signed the agreements.
The agreement with the Tohono O’odham Nation likely will also allow the Desert Diamond Casino to obtain a long-sought-after liquor license from the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. The state has put off acting on the tribe’s request for the license because of the legal dispute.
History of dispute
The state’s dispute with Tohono O’odham began in 2003 when the tribe quietly purchased a piece of unincorporated land near Glendale’s Westgate Entertainment District.
A year earlier, Arizona voters approved a gaming compact that prohibited any new casinos in the Valley, according to the state.
But in 2009, the tribe, which is based near Tucson, announced it would build a casino on the West Valley land.
The tribe argued it had the right to build a casino on the newly purchased land under an agreement with the federal government to replace a portion of the tribe’s reservation devastated by massive flooding from a government-installed dam.
The state disagreed, accused the tribe of fraud and took it to court. In early 2016, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling that the West Valley casino complies with federal law and the gaming compact.
Prior to the lawsuit’s conclusion, the tribe opened its casino with bingo-based slot games, and filed a lawsuit against the state for denying a higher-level gaming license.
The state filed several counterclaims against the tribe, again accusing it of fraud.
In December, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell denied the Tohono O’odham’s request to rule in its favor without a trial. The case was scheduled for trial this summer.
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