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Intense legal fight over proposed Glendale casino moves to 9th Circuit

The fight over whether a Southern Arizona tribe can build a massive casino near Glendale’s entertainment district moved to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday.

The city is contesting a trial court’s decision to uphold the Department of Interior’s decision to create reservation land out of 54 acres of unincorporated land near 95th and Northern avenues. The Tohono O’odham tribe wants to turn the parcel into reservation land under the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act, a 1986 federal law that allowed the tribe to replace nearly 10,000 acres of land that was destroyed by flooding from the federally-built Painted Rock Dam.

Tohono O’odham must convert the land to reservation land to build the casino.

During the hour-long argument in front of a three-judge appellate panel was the interpretation of language in a provision in the Gila Bend Act that forbids the federal government from creating a reservation “within the corporate limits of any city or town.”

Attorneys for Glendale argued that the county island is ineligible to become a reservation because it is surrounded by Glendale.

“This land is within Glendale’s corporate limits, and that should be the end of the matter,” said Catherine Stetson, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing Glendale.

However, the Department of Interior found in July 2010 that the parcel is not within the corporate limits of Glendale as the term is used in Arizona law and courts. The land had never been annexed by the city and doesn’t receive city services.

Seth Waxman, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing the Tohono O’odham told the court that the Interior Department’s interpretation was “correct and reasonable.”

Stetson said one of the options the court has if it finds the language to be ambiguous is to send the case back to the Interior Department for clarification, an exercise Waxman said would be pointless.

“The (agency) has grappled with this question,” Waxman said.

The Gila River Indian Community was also part of the arguments Monday.

Gila River, which has casinos in the Phoenix metro-area and the only West Valley casino, contends that the Tohono O’odham has already purchased all of the land allowable under the Gila Bend Act, but never got to present that information to the Department of the Interior. Gila River is now asking the appellate court to send the case back to the agency for reconsideration, a request made earlier of U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell. Campbell rejected Gila River’s request in his March 2011 decision, saying Gila River had waived the issue by not presenting it to the Interior Department.

Patricia Millett, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing Gila River, said the waiver principle shouldn’t apply because the agency proceeding was ex-parte, or done only on behalf of the Tohono O’odham.

“We fought very hard to overcome the nature of this ex-parte proceeding and did everything we could to get our foot in the door,” Millett told the appellate panel.

Millett said Tohono O’odham has bought around 16,000 acres with $30 million given to it by the federal government under the Gila Bend Act. According to briefs filed with the court, Tohono O’odham used complex transactions to cover up that the money from the Gila Bend Act was being used to buy more land than the law allowed.

Millett said the Gila Bend Act should be interpreted as a simple land swap for a nation that has lost its lands at the hands of the U.S. government.

“Or you can view it as the (Tohono O’odham) Nation does here, as essentially a shopping spree where they can go out and buy land – all the land their money will buy – and sit on it,” she said. “They get to wait and sit back and pick and choose to see how the land develops.”

Tohono O’odham bought the land in 2003 in secret and didn’t announce its casino project until early 2009. For the tribe to build a casino, the land would have to be deemed a reservation. The land is within a mile of University of Phoenix Stadium, the adjacent entertainment district and close to a high school.

Glendale and Tohono O’odham have been in court for more than three years, since the announcement of plans to build a massive casino on the land, which is about 160 miles from the tribe’s headquarters in Sells and about 56 miles from its original land near Gila Bend.

Tohono O’odham has been the more successful in court so far, winning a suit in which the city asserted that it had annexed the land before the tribe bought it and winning a U.S. District Court decision that found a 2011 Arizona law that would have allowed Glendale to annex the land is preempted by federal law.


  1. Hey Senator McCain…. let them build the “dang” Casino!!!!!!!

  2. What West Valley residents really don’t understand is that for years, all other sides of town have been able to out lobby, out show us westsiders any potential businesses there way. Because “wezz be just a bunch ol poor westsiders thinkn our elected officials are fighting for us”… I hope the west valley residents have seen the light. Are you tired of getting the scrapes? Remember the only reason that we have a stadium on this side of town is because the east valley never though in a million years that they would build it anywhere else but the east valley. So they lost that one. Same thing with the Phoenix Coyotes… never in a millions should it have been considered a west valley thang… so they lost that one as well.

    What the dirty little secret is all about is that if we get this Casino, the west valley now becomes a destination spot…. Meaning lots of hotels, stores, more golf courses, more tax revenue etc – a higher quality of life for working professional. Meaning home values go up, school are update, professional jobs start to arrive in the west valley… the Casino truly is the missing lick for us poor westsides the never have a prayer of getting the white color greenbelt business/jobs here in the west valley

    I invite any westvalley resident to go vist Chandler, Gilbert, Allwhitetoookme, etc… there is no recession over there… they have it all, they out flank us anytime we get have a chance. Now for some weird reason our own representatives do not want to see it happen? Could it be they owe their allegiance to the Arrowhead folks and all things North?? Could it be that when they retire from office, the last place they are going to live is on the west valley! I am just waiting for the GoldWater folks (those folks that are a front for North/East valley big money) to step in and try and block it as well. After all, they made Glendales life hell for the Coyotes… can you say “we are still upset that they left Scottsdale and if they are gone from Arizona Scottsdale get a NHL hockey team within two years!” The National Soccer Association wants to bring a team to the valley… guess who is courting them… a North Casino… they are going to build the most beautiful stadium ever… the westvalley has been proposing Soccer for years only to be turned away… you don’t think there is a coincidence that the rival casinos do not want us to succeed? Drive along the 101 corridor and see who really plays soccer in this Valley!! Soccer is at a fever pith in the Westvalley, but I guess it would rather be unsightly if they built a stadium for it and all the Hispanics in the west valley showed up – again… Westsiders wake up and demand your elected officials stop robbing us of jobs and opportunities.

    Folks wake up!!!! Do you know how much money in “lost sales/revenue” the north and east valley will lose if we get to get a Casino, if we get to keep a hockey team, and yes if we can keep NFL football on the westside? They want it all… all we are entitled to is more of the form-u-lade strip malls and warehouses off the 303. These are things that they can care less about… yet we act like it is a big deal when someone wants to add another warehouse center in the westvalley… “stop eating the cake.” Tell your elected officials you want this casino! Tell your elected officials stop selling out the westvalley!!! Tell them if they vote and speak out against the Casino you will run them out of office!!!

    Why would the tribe announce their intentions? Why because competing reservations/casinos stand to lose money!!! Ain’t code of honor, legacy of land, etc, etc. This is pure and simple a matter of which side of town gets the money… and it is certainly apparent our elected official have been impressed, if not scared, to fight against the other valley…. We have another Superbowl coming to the Valley soon…. Already it is downtown Phoenix that has created all the events and happenings. Just like last time when the idiot was in charge of event planning for our last Superbowl. Everything was planned around the Phoneix a.k.a.Scottdale Open… why?? Because nobody has the courage to stand up and demand that our side of town gets the tourism dollars.

    Fire the idiots in office and get folks to support the west valley!!!!! Did anyone notice that when the Reds and Indians where here for Spring Training… there was not a single sign in the West Valley highway indicating that the RED/Indians play here. I mean really, do we have to go out of our way to just give back to those folks that feel we are not deserving?

    I beg all Westsider to unite and send the message that we are not that G#$% stupid and that you will vote them of that glass island they think they have immunity on!!! Congressman Trent Franks either side with us or retire either or your days in office are numbered if you do not start taking care of this west valley!!!! You have had a good run staying under the radar… you better some courage and step up!!! These times are a changing.. there are real people that we be around long after Sheriff “Pile of C!@#$” or Governor Brew haha, or Sheriff Boo Boo down in penile county…. You guys are a joke and it is time for the Westvalley residents to get rid of these idiots. We have a chance to really put something together… do not drink their Koolaid

    All I am saying, is all I am saying!

  3. Build the casino and bring jobs to the west side. There is little on this side of Maricopa and a casino would be an added attraction to draw businesses. Why is Glendale opposing this? They are not a part of the revenue stream coming in, but the state of Arizona and schools would benefit. Why is Gila opposing this? It would cut into the profits at their only casino on the West. That casino is so stenched with the smell of smoke that no one can breathe! We need an alternative to that casino.

  4. Hey I would be all for allowing ANOTHER Casino, but only if we legalize gambling in Arizona. No way the monopoly should continue for only tribes to reap the huge profits. Talk about lost revenue! It is time the citizens of Arizona realize a larger share of the profits from gambling, like other states (Nevada and New Jersey) not just 2 or 3%.

    The outlet mall that Glendale just negotiated and that they already started building will probably bring in more money to Glendale than any tribal casino! In addition, it will probably employ more local residents. Way to go Glendale!

    I live a few miles from Westgate. I don’t know where Seth lives, but not sure he wants to live next door to a Casino. The stadium and the ball parks were built with plans that involved protecting some of the neighborhoods around them. By the tribe hiding their purchase of this land and not involving those around it in planning to protect the neighborhoods is a big part of the problem for me. There is a school across the street. Neighbors to this property should have had a chance to contribute their thoughts about how a casino would be built. Including making a new Arizona casino smoke free, like other buildings in Arizona that are not on tribal lands.

    I am not sure Seth has ever been to the East side if he doesn’t think they weren’t hit by the recession. This is not about East versus West or North versus South. The citizens of Arizona should all benefit from this.

    Yeah, Phoenix had some events, as well as Tempe, for the Super Bowl. other cities as well, like Scottsdale helped get the Super Bowl in Phoenix. It was a all out effort by Arizona citizens to help benefit our state, not just Glendale. Do you think Glendale did all the planning and paid for all the costs? Who do you think paid for a huge portion of the police that were needed for the Super Bowl? I bet Phoenix paid the Lions share.

    The West side can’t just demand tourism dollars. I’ve lived in the valley for decades. Glendale was a sleepy little town for most of those years. I think most residents wanted it to stay that way for a long time, but times have changed now that the recession it. Glendale will grow if residents support the growth. But, residents need to support local events and sports. There are way too many Glendale residents ready to bail on the Coyotes.

    I don’t think I will be uniting with Seth. I too am also fed up with our folks in office, but not about this casino. We have bigger problems than this casino here in Arizona. The citizens need to take their vote seriously. Stop voting people into office that are keeping us last in almost everything that counts like wages, quality of life, and education to name a few.

  5. When do we get the outcome of the case?

  6. I want this casino. Sun city is close by. I do not want to drive to Laughlin all the time. I do not want to drive to Scottsdale and Tempe. The Painted Rock Damn has destroyed 10,000 acres of land…let the Tohono recoup this loss. build the damn casino! Make West Phoenix/Glendale an entainment mecca.

  7. I agree that gambling should be legalized in the state of Az. We already have free texas holdem poker going on in many bars/clubs. The longer they wait, the more the State of Az loses! My question is who prefers the state of Nevada to get revenue from Az. when all we have to do is put it to a vote and legalize Gambling in This state! Our financial worries would disappear very quickly. Why should only the Native Americans profit from this Billion dollar industry-and Nevada,and New Jersey also. It is time to reevaluate this situation. The old time thinking of bringing the “wrong element” to the valley has long since passed-people like you and I want to have a good time gambling with a set amount of money and then go elsewhere. Not only that, the law enforcement has increased to a point where you do not have to worry about that type of crime.
    In closing, I say legalize Gambling in Arizona, let them build their Indian casino also, but at least make it fair to the rest that want to open a casino. Thanks!

  8. It’s quite odd that Arizona has such a tough time with casinos, while their
    neighbors in Nevada, offer just about every form of gambling imaginable.
    Americans really need to get a rid of the taboo gambling mentality.

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