It’s been more than 10 years since the Tohono O’odham Nation purchased the land for its Desert Diamond Casino West Valley near Glendale. Those years have been filled with court battles and controversy, all leading up to the casino’s public grand opening, which is scheduled for Dec. 20.
Here’s a look back at key dates in the West Valley casino’s history.
1960: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers builds Painted Rock Dam on Gila River to provide flood protection for farmers and Yuma. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Corps assure the Tohono O’odham Nation that the project will not harm tribal land.
Late 1970s and early 1980s: About 10,000 acres of the tribe’s land weathers constant flooding for months at a time. Flooding destroys farm lands and leaves many members impoverished.
1986: Congress passes a law allowing the Tohono O’odham Nation to sell the 9,880 acres to the government for $30 million and to seek an equivalent amount of land as reservation space, as long as the land is not within corporate limits of a town.
1988: The federal government enacts the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, setting the framework that governs Indian gaming nationwide.
2002: Voters approve a compact between Arizona and Indian tribes limiting the number of casinos and gaming devices in the state. The agreement gives Indian country exclusive rights to the Arizona gambling industry.
2003: Rainier Resources LLC begins buying county island land at 95th and Northern avenues on behalf of Tohono O’odham.
2009: Tohono O’odham announces plans to build a casino and resort, shocking local leaders, state and other Valley tribes. Glendale takes an adversarial stance.
May 2009: The Western Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs announces that the tribe’s West Valley land meets requirements for reservation status.
July 2010: Department of the Interior agrees to designate Tohono O’odham land as reservation territory, based on the 1986 law. Tribes can only operate casinos on reservations.
November 2010: Gila River Indian Community sues Interior, saying the department did not consider whether the land was eligible for gaming. Glendale joins, arguing the land should not be taken into trust because it is surrounded by the city. The legal battle puts the reservation transaction on hold.
Feb. 1, 2011: Gov. Jan Brewer signs legislation to allow Glendale to annex the Tohono O’odham Nation’s land, which would make it ineligible for reservation status. The tribe sues.
Feb. 14, 2011: Arizona, along with the Gila River and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian communities, sues Tohono O’odham, saying the tribe’s plans violate the 2002 gaming compact. They argue the agreement implicitly capped the number of metro-Phoenix casinos. Both tribes own casinos in the Valley.
March 2011 through July 2011: A federal judge largely sides with the Tohono O’odham on both lawsuits: the Interior and annexation cases. Opponents appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
2012: U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that would keep the Tohono O’odham from opening a casino on its West Valley land. The bill dies in the Senate.
May 2013: 9th Circuit court asks Interior to reissue its ruling on the Tohono O’odham’s reservation status, with deeper explanation.
July 2013: Opponents appeal the gaming compact case to the 9th Circuit.
November 2013: U.S. House passes legislation, again sponsored by Franks, that would block the tribe’s casino. The measure, HR1410, would ban tribes that take land into their reservations after April 2013 from opening gambling sites. The bill would expire in 2027.
March 2014: 9th Circuit agrees to postpone the compact case until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a Michigan lawsuit.
Michigan sued the Bay Mills Indian Community for refusing to close a casino the tribe built without asking Interior or the National Indian Gaming Commission. The tribe, however, raised sovereign immunity. Indian law experts say the Supreme Court may opt to take away sovereign immunity altogether, which may impact the lawsuit between Arizona and the Tohono O’odham.
March 2014: Glendale opens negotiations with the Tohono O’odham to decipher what types of resources the tribe may need to operate its facility. The City Council also opposes HR1410, Rep. Franks proposed legislation, but remains against the casino.
May 27, 2014: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Michigan dispute. The decision upholds tribal sovereign immunity, which protects tribes from getting sued in most cases.
July 3, 2014: The U.S. Department of the Interior reaffirms its decision about the tribe’s land at 95th and Northern avenues. Therefore, the 54-acre parcel became part of the Tohono O’odham Reservation, on which the tribe can build anything.
July 15, 2014: In a major shift, a divided Glendale City Council votes to support the Tohono O’odham Nation casino. Glendale’s new position comes after five years of fierce objections by the city.
July 28, 2014: U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona introduce a bill to prohibit any new casinos in metropolitan Phoenix. The legislation is a companion bill to U.S. House Bill 1410, the Keep the Promise Act, which was again introduced by Rep. Trent Franks and approved by the House in September.
Aug. 28, 2014: The Tohono O’odham Nation holds a groundbreaking ceremony for the casino.
December 2014: Grading and site preparation begins.
January 2015: Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and Reps. Trent Franks and Paul Gosar, all R-Ariz., reintroduce the Keep the Promise Act, to block any new casinos in metro Phoenix.
February 2015: Steel framing begins.
April 2015: Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Arizona Department of Gaming Director Daniel Bergin say the state will not allow the new casino to open because the state alleges the Tohono O’odham Nation committed fraud in negotiating the 2002 gaming compact.
June 22, 2015: The Tohono O’odham Nation files a lawsuit in federal court asking for an injunction that would allow the casino to open later this year. The suit names Ducey, Brnovich and Bergin as defendants.
Sept. 18, 2015: Judge David Campbell of the U.S. District Court of Arizona denies the tribe’s request for an injuction against the state’s actions to block the casino from opening. He rules that the Tohono O’odham Nation did not prove it would suffer irreparable harm or financial losses from the state’s actions to try to block the casino from opening. He also notes that the state said it does not have the authority to regulate Class 2 casinos.
Nov. 9, 2015: A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a lower court’s ruling overturning the law former Gov. Jan Brewer signed to block the tribe’s plans. The 2011 legislation would have allowed Glendale to annex the Tohono O’odham’s 54-acre parcel. The court ruling deems the law unconstitutional on the basis that federal law trumps state law.
Nov. 11, 2015: The U.S. House rejects quick passage of the Keep the Promise Act. House members voted 263 to 146, with 25 abstentions, to support the bill, but the tally falls short of the two-thirds threshold necessary to advance the measure on what’s called the suspension calendar.
Dec. 20, 2015: The Desert Diamond Casino West Valley is scheduled to open to the public.
November 2016: Gov. Doug Ducey announced his intent to renegotiate tribal gaming compacts. The Tohono O’odham Nation was invited to sign an initial agreement which could have potentially ended the ongoing litigation regarding Class III gaming. The Nation declined, saying the proposal included “terms that have not been publicly discussed that require additional analysis.”
December 19, 2016: U.S. District Judge David Campbell denied the request of the Tohono O’odham Nation to rule in its favor regarding Class III gaming without a trial. The case was expected to head to trial in summer 2017.
May 17, 2017: The state and tribe announced they had reached a settlement in the sole ongoing lawsuit. The state will issue the tribe a Class III gaming license and liquor license. In return, the tribe agreed not to construct any other casinos in the Phoenix metro area.
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