Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. left no doubt during a press conference today that his tribe believes it has the authority to continue building and eventually operate its $400 million West Valley casino, despite the Arizona Department of Gaming’s declaration that it will work to block the project.
Spurred by an April 17 letter from Gaming Director Dan Bergin asserting the agency’s power to stop the casino from opening and accusing the Southern Arizona-based tribe of using fraud and concealment to bring the project to fruition, Norris stood on the 135-acre casino site near Northern and 95th avenues to deliver the message that the tribe “will not be deterred” from completing and operating the facility.
“We are prepared to continue to commit resources to get this done,” Norris said. “My nation is not going to defer from its position. We will continue to move forward.”
Norris cited political pressure from Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich as reasons for the Gaming Department’s apparent “about face” on the project. He said a short meeting with Gaming officials and a series of letters between representatives of Tohono O’odham Nation and the agency lead him to believe that the Department of Gaming was ready to do its job merely as an “independent regulatory agency.”
That job generally includes ensuring the casino operations are compliant with the terms of the state’s 2002 gaming compact.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which opposes the West Valley project, is supporting the Gaming Department’s decree. In a written statement issued April 19, the tribe concluded that issuance of a license would be “highly premature” based on “pending litigation and looming indications of fraud.”
“The Department’s action is an important step in protecting the integrity of Indian gaming in Arizona and fulfilling the promises made to Arizonans who voted to approve the gaming compacts,” said SRPMIC President Delbert Ray Sr.
Ray reiterated his tribe’s belief that the project violates commitments made in the 2002 gaming compacts and that no new casinos should be built in the metro Phoenix area “until the Governor of Arizona and its primary gaming agency, the Arizona Department of Gaming, and Indian tribes decide to negotiate terms for new gaming compacts.”
Norris said he was “extremely encouraged” initially by Ducey’s focus on economic development.
“How can he talk about economic development and deny this project? Where else do you see a project of this magnitude that will have this impact?” Norris said the resort will have a $300 million impact annually.
Norris was preceded on stage by other West Valley city officials, all of whom supported the West Valley Resort, including Glendale City Councilman Sammy Chavira, Tolleson Mayor Adolfo Gámez and Glendale Vice Mayor Ian Hugh.
Chavira, whose Yucca District is closest to the casino site, said that politics has intervened to disrupt a project that will benefit the entire West Valley. “If it’s good for the city of Glendale, the West Valley and the federal government, it should be great for the state of Arizona too,” he said.
Gámez, who touts Tolleson as the first West Valley city to publicly support the project, says the vast majority of his constituents support the casino and the jobs and entertainment options it brings.
“It’s going to be a lure for business,” he said. “We’re big enough. Everybody is going to have a piece of the pie.”g