In a room brimming with union trades workers wearing bright-orange shirts, the Glendale City Council reversed its long-held opposition to the Tohono O'odham Nation establishing a reservation and opening an resort-style casino just outside of the city limits.
Members of the TON sat in the front row, relishing yet another victory in their five-year battle with the City of Glendale, the State of Arizona, and sister tribes.
See also: -Wanna Bet? The Tohono O'odham Want to Build a Casino in the West Valley -Glendale City Council Begins Formal Casino Negotiations With Tohono O'odham Nation -Federal Judge Affirms Arizona Gaming Compact Does Not Ban New Casinos in Valley
In January 2009, the Nation announced plans to open a resort-style casino in the West Valley, near 91st and Northern avenues. Just three months later, the Glendale City Council adopted a resolution making loud and clear their vehement opposition to the tribe's plans.
Glendale leaders invoked assistance from Arizona's federal delegation in Washington, D.C., from Governor Jan Brewer, and from local lawmakers. For more than five years, Glendale, joined by the Gila River Indian Community, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, and other Native American tribes, and spent millions of dollars on lawsuits, lobbyists, and smear campaigns in an effort to torpedo the TON's plans.
Casino opponents have failed at every turn. But their biggest loss came on Tuesday afternoon when the Glendale council voted 4-3 to reverse its 2009 opposition to the U.S. Department of Interior's converting the TON's land into an Indian reservation -- and to support Indian gaming on that parcel.
The three-part resolution made official the repeal of the city's 2009 resolution, affirmed the city's position no longer objecting to Indian gaming on that parcel, and directed the city clerk to send the city's new stance to members of Arizona's federal delegation.
Congressman Trent Franks will be among those getting a copy of Glendale's new position on the casino. Franks had been working closely with Glendale and other casino opponents to push through a law that would prohibit the TON from building a casino.
The city's shift is so significant because high-profile casino opponents, like Franks and Senator John McCain, always pointed to Glendale's stance against the casino as the basis for their own opposition. And Glendale's opposition carried so much weight because the area slated for the proposed casino is within the city's municipal planning area and enveloped on three sides by the city.
Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice Mayor Yvonne Knaack, and Councilman Manny Martinez voted against the new resolution.
Leading the charge in support of the Nation are the council's newest members -- councilmen Sammy Chavira, Ian Hugh, and Gary Sherwood and councilwoman Norma Alvarez.
They called for a special meeting while the City Council was in recess because they wanted to change their official stance ahead of a series of Senate hearings on July 23 in Washington, D.C. requested by U.S. Senators McCain and Jeff Flake to discuss Indian affairs, including gaming.
Weiers was formally invited to speak at the hearings.
Supporters of the casino project said it would create much-needed jobs for the tradesmen and -women in the audience and would create a new source of revenue for the cash-strapped city.
The city recently applied for nearly $800,000 in grants from the Nation for bolstering public safety, youth sports programs and library services.
Nation leaders estimate the casino, known as the West Valley Resort, will generate more than 3,000 new, permanent jobs and have an annual economic impact of more than $300 million.
Opponents, including Martinez, continued to repeat the old arguments about the Nation's breaking a promise to voters about not building new casinos. Their arguments have already been vetted and dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in the various lawsuits over the casino.
The Nation has a legal right to build a new casino in Maricopa County -- ironically thanks to Senator John McCain, who co-authored Public Law 99-503, a law signed by President Ronald Regan in 1986.
On July 3, the U.S. Department of the Interior again concluded that the Nation's West Valley property lies within unincorporated Maricopa County -- a sticking point in one of the lawsuits pending over the casino. The federal department previously had opined that the land was not in Glendale and therefore eligible to becoming a reservation.
The federal judge asked the DOI to take another look at the issue, and it did -- arriving at the same conclusion.
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