The Tohono O’odham Nation’s chairman on Tuesday defended his tribe’s effort to construct a casino that borders Glendale, despite attempts by the city and Rep. Trent Franks to quash the effort.
Ned Norris, who spoke during a Peoria Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Arizona Broadway Theatre, touted job creation and an improved economy for surrounding municipalities if the proposed casino project near 91st and Northern avenues was built.
But opponents, namely Glendale, the Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, say the Tohono O’odham’s plan is a betrayal of Proposition 102, the 9-year-old gaming compact between the state and the 17 tribes within it.
Norris said he believes Glendale leaders are spreading misinformation about the project, which would be located near the Westgate City Center, and that an ongoing appeals process in the 9th District Court of Appeals is an attempt to circumvent the southern Arizona tribe’s rights.
“If we’re breaking the law, why is the opposition trying to change the law?” he said, referring to House Resolution 2938, created by Franks. “We know there’s strong support for the project.”
Franks’ bill would amend a 25-year-old law, barring tribal nations from opening casinos on replacement lands in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. The original Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act of 1986 allowed the Tohono O’odham to purchase land and place it into trust as compensation for part of their land being flooded.
The Tohono O’odham purchased the 135-acre plot of land in 2003 and announced plans for the proposed West Valley Resort in 2008, which requires placing the land into trust. Franks and local leaders, namely Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, have said doing so would be problematic.
Scruggs has said constructing a casino inside Glendale’s municipal planning area would have a “devastating effect” on the city’s future.
“The focus of this bill is on keeping our promises and making sure there is a continuity of integrity in the process,” Franks said this summer upon unveiling his legislation.
Despite that, Norris on Tuesday emphasized job creation and improving the economy with the proposed casino that would keep those interested in gambling in the West Valley, ushering new tax dollars at nearby restaurants, shops and hotels to surrounding municipalities.
Norris estimated that 6,000 construction and 3,000 permanent jobs would be created. Though the tribe’s first preference is to hire Native American employees, he said he believes there would be a 70-30 split, with most being non-native employees.
Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett says his council is not endorsing the casino project as the matter is still under litigation, but noted the amount of jobs it will create, even if they’re low-paying, will benefit the West Valley.
“Who’s going to oppose jobs? I know people who are out of work and find it tough to put food on the table,” he said. “These might not be high-paying jobs, but it’s a job.”
Barrett also said it’s useless to criticize the Tohono O’odham’s efforts, particularly as the tribe is trying to offer a new form of entertainment in the West Valley that will complement what’s offered at Westgate City Center.
The mayor said the casino would also attract more people before and after games at University of Phoenix Stadium and Jobing.com Arena, as well as keep more fans in Glendale during the annual Fiesta Bowl.
Reporter Jeff Dempsey contributed to this report.
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.