A southern Arizona Indian tribe that wants to build a casino in suburban Phoenix filed suit March 22 asking a court to force the federal government to add land to its reservation.
The Tohono O’odham Nation applied more than a year ago to have 134 acres that it owns near Glendale taken into trust, a move that would expand the reservation and is necessary for the tribe to build a casino on the site.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges that the U.S. Interior Department broke the law by failing to act on the tribe’s application.
The tribe says its plan to build a $500 million, 600-room resort and casino would bring tourism and jobs to the suburbs west of Phoenix. The city of Glendale has opposed the plan, saying it was developed with no input from the city. Glendale surrounds the property on three sides.
Federal law allows tribal casinos only on existing reservation land, with certain narrow exceptions.
The Tohono O’odham Nation argues that one of those exceptions applies in this case. A separate federal law authorizes the tribe to add nearly 10,000 acres to its reservation to replace land flooded in the late 1970s after a dam was built nearby.
Glendale and the tribe disagree over whether the tribe’s 134 acres near Glendale meet the requirements of the second law, known as the Lands Replacement Act. The city won a state court judgment that a third of the property was annexed by Glendale, prohibiting that portion of land from being taken into trust under the Lands Replacement Act.
The tribe argues in its lawsuit that the Interior Department should immediately take into trust a separate portion of the land that it says unquestionably meets the requirements in the Lands Replacement Act, including that the land be outside the boundaries of a city.
“We have tried very hard to work with, not against, the Department, but at some point it became clear that the Department has simply stopped processing the Nation’s application,” tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr. said in a statement.
The tribe argues that a decision from the Interior Department is particularly urgent because the Arizona Legislature is considering a bill that would allow Glendale to annex the remaining two-thirds of the property. The measure passed the state House and is awaiting action in the Senate. If successful, the law could make the land ineligible to be taken into trust.
Glendale City Attorney Craig Tindall said the lawsuit shows that the Tohono O’odham Nation wants to impose the casino without the city’s input.
“It’s clearly representative of the tribe’s position all along, that the state and the local community have absolutely no say in this matter at all,” Tindall said.
Tribal officials have said that Glendale has rejected good-faith negotiations.