By Jeff Grant for Daily News-Sun
Arizona’s two U.S. senators and a House member – bolstered by a larger group of their fellow Republicans – are reviving efforts to halt an Indian tribe’s $400M casino project.
The argument by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both R-Ariz., is not new; they and Rep. Trent Franks, R-8th Dist., contend the Tohono O’odham Nation’s plan to build on 53 acres of vacant unincorporated land near the Glendale off Loop 101 and Northern Avenue contradicts federal laws on tribal gaming. Their Senate resolution, named the Keep the Promise Act of 2015, seeks to bar gaming activities on certain Indian lands in Arizona until 2027 when a pact between the state and its tribes on casino sites is due to expire.
The concerns behind the Senate measure and its House twin, H.R. 308, are financial. Tribes operating gaming facilities in the East Valley have said a West Valley site would siphon off some of their revenue.
Courts have ruled in favor of the Tohono O’odham.
A federal judge rejected arguments by the opposing tribes and the state that the 2002 voter-approved measure giving tribes exclusive rights to operate casinos in Arizona specifically prohibits construction of any new gaming halls in the Phoenix area.
In a statement late Wednesday, Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. reiterated a call for opponents to drop their fight against the casino, the first phase of which has been under construction for several weeks.
Norris pointed out officials in Glendale, Peoria, Surprise and Tolleson all endorse the project. The building, expected to open late this year, will house 1,000 slot machines, restaurants and bars, and serve as the Nation’s gaming facility until the permanent one is up more than a year later.
Glendale stands to receive an annual average of $1.3M in casino and resort revenues from the Nation over 20 years. The project will create 500 permanent jobs this year and a total of nearly 3,000 positions when it is fully built while generating more than $300M in annual revenue, Norris has said.
Although the previous resolution passed the House it did not make it out of a Senate committee. With the upper legislative chamber now in GOP hands and the Republicans continuing control of the House, the resolutions are expected to make it to President Barack Obama’s desk, where their future is uncertain.
Enactment would cancel out weeks of construction. Crews have been pouring concrete for about two weeks and are expected to receive the first steel shipment for the initial building, according to Nation officials.
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