Trent Franks, Arizona Congressman, Expected to Propose Law -- Again -- to Block Tohono O'odham Nation's Plans for West Valley Casino
Arizona Congressman Trent Franks is expected to introduce another bill aimed at blocking the Tohono O'odham Nation from building a West Valley casino.
Congressional insiders say it may happen this week.
Although a similar measure he floated last year failed, Franks again is trying to "prohibit gaming activities on certain Indian lands in Arizona," according to a draft copy of the proposed law obtained by New Times.
Read: Keep the Tohono O'odham Nation (TON) from building a casino on land that the tribe owns near 95th and Northern avenues in the West Valley.
Chatter about Franks introducing this anti-casino measure coincides with a hearing scheduled this afternoon in U.S. District Court before Judge David Campbell.
One of the issues before Judge Campbell is whether permitting gaming on the tribe's West Valley property violates a gaming compact between tribes and the state that voters approved in 2002.
State officials and two other tribes -- the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community -- suing to halt the casino claim that the TON leaders and representatives agreed during the years-long negotiations over the gaming compact that there would be no more casinos in the Phoenix metro area.
The problem is that the compact doesn't say anything about how many casinos can be built in the Phoenix metro area.
Hard to violate a portion of a law that doesn't exist.
But the situation begs the questions:
If limiting casinos in the Phoenix area was such a crucial part of these compacts, why didn't even a single one of the lawyers, tribal leaders or state officials -- during the more than three years of negotiations -- think to actually stick a sentence or two about that in the compacts?
If these pivotal promises were being made by tribal leaders, why not make sure they were memorialized in the very document that otherwise dictates everything else about the casino -- where ATMs can be located, how many people can sit at a black jack table and how many gaming machines each tribe can operate.
While crafters of the gaming compacts obviously omitted limits on the specific number of Phoenix-area casinos, they did include exceptions to the law -- a footnote that you won't hear critics of the TON casino talk about. It's probably one they wish they could forget.
As New Times reported back in 2010, while the gaming compact limits Indian gaming to existing reservations, it allows casinos on new reservations as long as they fit the guidelines in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
That set of federal gaming rules allows casinos on reservation land created after October 17, 1988, if they are part of "a settlement of a land claim."
And that is exactly what the Tohono O'odham Nation believes it was granted when Congress in 1986 adopted Public Law 99-503, also known as the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Land Replacement Act.
In fact, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in September 2012 with a lower district court ruling that feds were right to take land owned by the Tohono O'odham into trust, which essentially means it becomes part of the Nation's reservation lands.
Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris told New Times in 2010 that fellow tribes' opposition is "about money and control. [The Gila River people] should call it what it is."
Franks proposes to undo the gaming compact we mentioned earlier, which Arizona voters and Native American leaders agreed upon in 2002. If Franks has his way, there would be no gaming allowed on new reservations in the Phoenix-metro area until January 1, 2027.
As noted, the current compact already allows gaming on new reservations -- as long as they comply with federal Gaming Act.
It also stands to completely unravel 1986 Congressional law that very specifically gives the TON the authority to purchase up to 9,880 acres in Pima, Pinal, or Maricopa counties, requires the feds to convert those acres into Indian reservation land, and clearly says that the land shall be deemed a reservation "for all purposes."
We're no legal scholars, but "gaming" falls nicely under the category "for all purposes." And, last we checked, the TON-owned land near Glendale is in Maricopa County.
It's also worth mentioning -- but hardly surprising -- that Trents' "Keep the Promise Act of 2013" mirrors the name of the Gila River Indian Community's website: "Keeping the Promise."
The GRIC-sponsored site speaks of the evils of having
another a casino in the West Valley. (They already own Vee Quiva Casino in Laveen.)
Draft of Franks' bill: 2013 Franks Bill Draft.pdf