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Casino-Blocking Bill Could Cost $1B

Construction is underway at 93rd Avenue and Northern in Glendale on the Desert Diamond West Valley Resort, the Tohono O'odham nation's newest casino project. Photo credit: John Samora/The Republic

By Peter Corbett for The Arizona Republic

A bill in Congress aimed at blocking a West Valley casino could cost the nation’s taxpayers as much as $1B in legal compensation, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO estimate released April 24 looks at the potential costs of passing the Keep the Promise Act of 2015, but the office emphasizes that much uncertainty exists about what could happen, including the cost ultimately being nothing.

The bill, introduced in January, would prohibit the Tohono O’odham Nation from opening a $400M casino on its land at Loop 101 and Northern Avenue.

The first phase of the casino and resort is under construction. The tribe intends to open it by the end of this year despite opposition from the state and the Gila River and Salt River tribes.

In its findings, the office said, “Although the tribe has been successful in litigation thus far and construction of its resort and casino is underway, it may be more difficult for the tribe to prevail in a claim brought after enactment of (the bill) because of the types of claims available to it and the facts of this particular situation. The outcome of such litigation is uncertain.”

But Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said if the bill passes, the Tohono O’odham Nation would have a good legal case against the federal government that it was being blocked from using its land for the highest and best use.

“There’s a potential $1B liability,” he said. “Our senators and others in the delegation want to roll the dice and take that risk. I’m not willing to take that risk.”

The CBO estimate for the bill is the latest development in the political and legal battle over the casino that has been ongoing since 2009. The battle heated up earlier this month when state gaming officials told the Tohono O’odham Nation that the state will not certify the casino when the building is finished.

The East Valley tribes and the state allege that the Tohono O’odham Nation defrauded voters and the state by not announcing its plans to develop a casino when the voter-approved gaming compact was being negotiated in 2002.

A federal court already has ruled that there is no explicit language in the compact that prohibits another casino in metro Phoenix, but that decision has been appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The CBO report said that if the casino-blocking bill was enacted, the Tohono O’odham tribe would pursue litigation against the federal government to recover its financial losses caused by the prohibition on gambling.

Read more at The Arizona Republic

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