A Glendale City Council majority has agreed to begin formal negotiations with the Tohono O'odham Nation over its proposed West Valley casino -- a move that marks a dramatic change in the city's previous attitude toward the Native American tribe.
Nation leaders say that opening the door to "formal negotiations allows Glendale and the Nation to address concerns directly and work toward a beneficial agreement on the resort-casino project."
The TON has been knocking at Glendale's door since January 2009, when its chairman, Ned Norris, first announced his community's gaming plans.
See also: -Proposed West Valley Casino Is Pitting Valley Indian Tribes Against One Another -Wanna Bet? The TON Wants WV Casino -- Will Feds Break Their Promise to the Tribe? -TON Win: Judge Affirms AZ Gaming Compact Doesn't Ban New Casinos in Phoenix
The previous Glendale officials, however, wasted no time in rejecting the idea of a resort-style casino near 91st and Northern avenues, an area close to Westgate, a city-spurred sports and entertainment complex.
"This is a different council," says Councilwoman Norma Alvarez. "We want to have a casino and resort near Glendale. It's going to bring people into Glendale who will spend money, and we desperately need that. We're so broke."
At the same City Council workshop, a majority of the council also voiced its opposition to HR 1410, a narrowly crafted proposal by Representative Trent Franks intended to stop the West Valley casino.
Frank's bill, which has stalled in the U.S. Senate, would prohibit any tribal casinos in the metro-Phoenix area until the existing gaming compacts expire in 2027.
Former Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs headed a council once obstinate in its opposition to the casino. But, newly elected ones like Alvarez welcome it, and hope it will spur new streams of revenue in their cash-strapped city.
Glendale has fallen on tough times after sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into sports-related projects that were sold to the public as sure-fire economic development drivers. The promised development -- and associated revenue streams -- have barely materialized.
Most recently, Glendale leaders agreed in July 2013 that they'd begin paying the owners of the Phoenix Coyotes $15 million a year to manage the city-owned building. And, they also pledged $50 million to the National Hockey League to keep the team in Glendale.
Glendale officials who are receptive to the casino hope to develop a financial partnership with the Nation.
But it's not going unnoticed.
In the wake of a series of court losses and Glendale's friendlier attitude toward the Tohono O'odham Nation's casino, casino opponents (other Indian tribes with gaming interests in the Valley) are ramping up their rhetoric.
The Salt River Pima-Marioca Indian Community released a statement announcing that "more" Arizona mayors want to see Congress take action on 'off-reservation' gaming.
The usual list of anti-casino mayors from Scottsdale, Tempe, Litchfield Park, Gilbert and Glendale grew by two. Now, the mayors from Apache Junction and Fountain Hills are on board with Franks proposed law.
There may be two new mayors on the roster, but their talking points haven't changed: Bad things will happen "if the Tohono O'odham Nation continues to ignore commitments made," says Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell.
A federal judge already ruled that there are no promises getting broken by the Tohono O'odham Nation's plans because the voter-approved tribal-state compact that regulate gaming in Arizona doesn't contain any such promises.
Mitchell also says the Nation plans to erect its casino "within the city limits of Glendale."
Not exactly true. The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs already determined that the parcel owned by the Nation is not "within" Glendale -- it's an unincorporated piece of land in Maricopa County. One that Glendale hasn't collected taxes from or provided city services to.
Among the slew of lawsuits filed by the TON's opponents, including the Gila River Indian Community and the State of Arizona, the DOI's decision was a point of contention. A federal court judge hearing the case sent back that issue to the DOI, asking them to further explain how they arrived at their decision.
"If the East Valley has all these casinos, why are they opposing the one in the West Valley? Alvarez says. "If the East Valley has them, why can't the West Valley? It's all about the money."
A West Valley casino, right off the Loop 101, would create untold competition for the Gila River Indian Community, a tribe that currently has the West Valley's only casino -- Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino. It's about 25 miles away from the proposed site of the TON's resort-style casino.
In the midst of lawsuits and lobbying for laws to block TON, GRIC officials broke ground on a new casino and resort in 2012 at the same site of its existing casino in Laveen. Preparing for the pending competition, no doubt.
Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. said in a statement that he's please with Glendale officials' recent actions.
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"On behalf of the Nation, I applaud the Glendale City Council for taking these important steps towards partnership, job creation and positive economic development. The Nation looks forward to working with Glendale leaders and staff to find a way for us to move forward together for the benefit of the entire West Valley."
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