Arizona Folds Hand in Desert Diamond Casino Settlement, Agrees to Tribe's Demands

The Tohono O'odham Nation settled its lawsuit with the state of Arizona this week in a deal that gives the tribe nearly everything it wanted in the dispute over the Desert Diamond West Valley casino.

Governor Doug Ducey issued a news release to the media announcing the deal on Wednesday, praising it as a "major victory for Arizona."

That's politician-speak, though: The deal actually represents a major loss for the state's previous position on the casino.

The settlement means that visitors to the gambling establishment at 9431 West Northern Avenue in Glendale will soon be able to play blackjack, poker, and standard slot machines.

This is a day the Nation has long been working toward." — Tohono O'odham Tribal Chairman Edward D. Manuel

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"It is time for us to move forward," Ducey said in the release. "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. I welcome the Tohono O'odham Nation to this process."

The tribe opened the casino in December 2015 with a limited gaming license. Until now, no blackjack or poker tables have been allowed. The casino's 1,000 existing video gaming machines are technically based on bingo games, but look and work like slot machines.

A casino worker said on Wednesday that the machines were, in fact, slot machines, and that the new deal means that blackjack and poker would likely be up and running at Desert Diamond West Valley in a few weeks.

Tribal leaders did not return a call for comment.

The deal followed years of resistance by state and local officials who did not want a casino in the middle of metro Phoenix. Arizona bans casino gambling in general, and Indian casinos are typically located far from population centers on Native American reservations.

Desert Diamond West Valley is located on reservation land, but it's a special case.

As New Times reported in a 2010 cover article about the history of the Glendale casino, the Tohono O'odham were owed more reservation land after the Painted Rock Dam caused flooding on 10,000 acres that was home to several villages. The O'odham secretly purchased 134 acres for the future casino in 2003, then surprised local leaders when they announced plans for the casino in 2009.

The state subsequently refused to issue a Class 3 gaming permit for the casino, limiting the types of games it could offer. The Indian nation sued in Arizona U.S. District Court, resulting in the settlement announced on Wednesday.

Ducey's chief of staff, Kirk Adams, told the news media in November that the state had offered a settlement to the tribe. It would given the tribe its desired gaming license in exchange for a promise not to build more casinos in metro Phoenix, just like the new deal. The tribe, although it had previously denied any intentions to build more Phoenix-area casinos, declined the offer at the time.

Under the deal, the state will begin processing the Class 3 gaming license and the tribe's liquor license. The state also agreed to a O'odham Nation demand that land adjacent to the casino site will be allowed to be taken into a tribal trust. The agreement will be codified in the tribe's existing gaming compact with the state.

Each party will pay its attorneys' fees for the litigation.

"This is a day the Nation has long been working toward," Tribal Chairman Edward D. Manuel said in Ducey's press release. "The Nation is eager to continue with its West Valley investment to create thousands of new jobs, positive economic development, and a world-class casino resort that all of Arizona can be proud of."

Arizona collected about $103 million in shared revenue from all tribal gaming in the state's 2016 fiscal year.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern