In the aftermath of the Glendale City Council’s March 18th workshop, touted by the Tohono O’Odham Nation as a victory for their proposed neighborhood casino, media headlines spoke of the beginning of “negotiations” between the Nation and the city. As a veteran of this five-year-long political and legal battle and the governor of the Gila River Indian Community, I write to offer a strong note of caution about such “negotiations.”
During the years this fight has raged, elected leaders, neighbors and tribal communities have raised a host of objections to this project. Every one of those objections remains as true today as they have been for years. The only thing different? The flip flop of one politician, a member of the Glendale City Council.
While that councilman has staked out an odd political stance – he remains against the casino, he told his colleagues, but open to hearing the Nation’s promises – the position of those opposed to the project, including Gov. Jan Brewer, Attorney General Tom Horne, nearly the entire Arizona Congressional delegation, a host of Valley mayors and tribal communities statewide, has not changed one iota.
The opponents of this project – a casino with more than 1,000 slot machines and table games located a stone’s throw from homes, churches, schools and day care centers – still believe a mega-casino is wrong for the middle of a neighborhood. We also strongly believe that allowing one tribe to break the promise made to Arizona’s voters not to locate more casinos in metro Phoenix will potentially open neighborhoods Valleywide to casinos and gambling facilities.
We also have serious questions about the Nation’s ability to fund this project, the accuracy of their revenue projections and job estimates and the tribe’s willingness to cooperate with Glendale moving forward. I don’t make such statements lightly, but make them to remind all involved that some 15 years ago, 16 Arizona tribes sat beside the leaders of the Tohono O’Odham Nation and negotiated tribal gaming compacts later ratified by Arizona’s voters.
It’s those compacts the Nation’s leaders appear to have disregarded as casually as one crosses out a sentence on a piece of paper.
In the next few weeks, the residents of Glendale will hear many promises about what the city can expect if this casino is built. These numbers will be “best case scenarios” authored by hired gun economists and lawyers. They’re more words on a page, likely to be disregarded soon after, when bills come due and obligations must be met. As we stand today, the Nation enjoys sovereign immunity, a legal entitlement that effectively means they owe Glendale not a thing, even a day in court, in return for the city’s support – support the city still has not given in an official way.
You can expect the promises to flow like water soon and the revenue figures to be mind-boggling – perhaps even astonishing enough to persuade a handful of politicians desperate to bail out Glendale from the brink of financial disaster.
The city has heard such glowing promises before, with its stadium and ballpark, sports franchises and entertainment district. Taking big promises at face value has edged Glendale near bankruptcy. Those of us who oppose the casino urge all involved to proceed with caution.
Too often, promises committed to paper are not nearly what they appear to be.
- Gregory Mendoza is governor of the Gila River Indian Community.