Horne joins opposition to Tohono casino near Glendale - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Horne joins opposition to Tohono casino near Glendale

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Posted: Monday, February 14, 2011 10:15 pm

Claiming that promises were made, Attorney General Tom Horne asked a federal judge Monday to permanently block the Tohono O'odham Nation from building a casino near Glendale.

Working with attorneys from another tribe, Horne charged that officials from tribes pushing a 2002 ballot measure to give them exclusive right to operate casino gaming told voters that casinos would be limited to existing reservations. And they specifically said there would be no new casinos in the Phoenix area.

Horne said voters relied on that information in approving the plan.

But at the very same time, Horne charged, the Tohono tribe had a "secret plan'' to acquire land at the edge of Glendale, with the longer-term goal of making that part of the reservation -- and then constructing a casino there. But that purchase did not become public until two years ago when the land, bought in 2003 by the tribe under a fictitious corporate name, formally transferred title to the tribe itself.

Last year the U.S. Department of Interior gave its permission for the tribe to make 54 acres of that parcel part of the reservation, a necessary precursor to allowing a casino.

The only thing holding that up is a separate lawsuit by Glendale and the Gila River Indian Community challenging that decision by the federal agency. U.S. District Court David Campbell is set to hear arguments on that on Thursday.

This new legal maneuver, based on different legal theories, is effectively a backstop for foes of the casino if Campbell rules against the challenges.

In a prepared statement, Tohono Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said foes of the planned casino "continue to raise misleading and inaccurate arguments in a desperate attempt to protect their personal interests.'' That last comment is specifically aimed at the Gila River Indian Community, which is working with Horne on this lawsuit, which will no longer have the closest casino to the West Valley area of Maricopa County if the Tohono plan goes through.

In essence Horne is hoping to convince U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake, assigned this case, that he should consider the statements made to voters around the time of the 2002 election.

There were actually three competing measures on the ballot this year.

Propositions 200 and 202 proposed letting tribes have the sole right to operate casinos in exchange for a share of profits. Race track owners pushed Proposition 201 to let them operate slot machines along with tribes.

Minutes of a pre-election town hall meeting, taken by Henry Leyva, a worker from the Arizona Department of Gaming, quoted Norris in favor of Proposition 202 and against to Proposition 201. Among Norris' reasons was that Proposition 201 would open gaming into cities and, according to Leyva, the people of the state have repeatedly expressed their desire to keep gaming confined to reservations.

Proposition 202 is the one finally enacted into law.

Norris at the time was the manager of the tribe's Desert Diamond Casino.

The tribe has argued the wording of the ballot measure does permit new casinos on land subsequently acquired as the result of a land settlement. This land was purchased after Congress gave permission in 1986 to compensate the Tohono O'odham Nation for destruction of other tribal lands due to a federal dam project.

But Horne argued that the land obtained by the tribe does not fit the legal exception.

The statements by Norris and those by the tribes pushing the ballot measure are only part of Horne's claim that voters never intended to allow a casino near Glendale. He also noted that then-Gov. Jane Hull, in a formal statement in support of Proposition 202, said it would keep gaming on Indian reservations and "does not allow it to move into our neighborhoods.''

Norris, in his statement Monday, said the laws permitting the tribe to build a casino near Glendale "are quite clear.''

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