State gaming department to block new Glendale casino being built by Tucson-area tribe


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PHOENIX — Arizona's gaming director has told a Tucson-area Indian tribe building a casino in Glendale that he will block any certification of the new operation, a position he took at the urging of Gov. Doug Ducey.

The Tohono O'odham Nation has been fighting a legal battle for five years to build the casino and has won every round.

The tribe unveiled its plans for the massive resort and casino near the University of Phoenix stadium — where the NFL's Arizona Cardinals play — in 2009. The tribe purchased the site after receiving a $30 million federal settlement to replace nearly 10,000 acres of ancestral reservation land damaged by a dam.

The state and other tribes say the gaming compact — an agreement between tribes and the state — doesn't allow another casino in metropolitan Phoenix. The state's congressional delegation also has been pushing legislation to block the casino.

Ducey said in an April 8 letter to Gaming Department Director Daniel Bergin that the state reserves the right to cancel its entire gambling compact with the Tohono O'odham Nation. Ducey said the tribe engaged in fraud when it negotiated with the state for a gambling compact because it didn't disclose its plans for a casino in the Phoenix area. It has casinos outside Tucson.

Tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr. called Ducey's action and an advisory opinion from Attorney General Mark Brnovich saying Bergin could deny certifications a "blatant abuse of power" and a "new low."

The tribe won a ruling from a U.S. District judge in 2013 affirming its ability to build the casino, but the state is appealing. U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell's ruling said that the tribe's development is legal because the state's gambling compact did not contain language prohibiting new casino construction. Opponents insist the casino ban was implicit and part of the reason voters approved the compact in 2002.

After opposing the casino, the city of Glendale reached an agreement last year with the tribe to drop its opposition. Key provisions of the agreement include the tribe paying the financially ailing city $26 million over 20 years, including an up-front payment of $500,000 within 10 days, and the city withdrawing from litigation against the $400 million project.

The tribe's attorney, former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, said the attorney general's new opinion is a change from previous positions. He said the gaming department appeared to have changed its position "based on improper political pressure, not reasoned decisionmaking."

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