The agreement between Gov. Doug Ducey and the Tohono O'odham Nation ends a years long dispute over the tribe's Desert Diamond Casino near Glendale.
The agreement between Gov. Doug Ducey and the Tohono O'odham (toh-HO'-noh AH'-tuhm) Nation ends a years long dispute over the tribe's Desert Diamond Casino near Glendale.
The tribe opened the casino in late 2015 but the Ducey administration denied it certification to operate full-fledged gambling. The governor had sent a letter to the state's gaming director in April 2015 saying that the tribe engaged in fraud because it didn't disclose its plans for a casino in the Phoenix area while negotiating a gambling agreement with the state in 2003. He also said the state might consider cancelling its entire gambling compact with the tribe.
The tribe sued and opened the casino instead with bingo-style slots and no alcohol license. So-called "Class III" gambling that includes regular slot machines and card tables wasn't allowed, a bigger money-maker for casinos.
The agreement ends an ongoing battle between the tribe and the state in federal court.
"This is a day the Nation has long been working toward," Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Edward D. Manuel said in a statement. "It establishes an agreement concerning the Nation's ability to conduct Class III gaming on its West Valley land and it brings to an end the final dispute that was constraining this important project."
Ducey also crowed over the agreement, calling it a major victory for the state that ensures reasonable restrictions on future casinos in metro Phoenix.
"It is time for us to move forward together," Ducey said in a statement. "I am eager to continue meeting with gaming tribes to discuss how we can modernize the tribal-state gaming compacts and create positive economic opportunities for all Arizonans. I welcome the Tohono O'odham Nation to this process."
The governor's office in December bypassed the Tohono O'odham when it agreed to make changes to its gambling agreements with 10 other tribes that gave them more gambling opportunities. Three other tribes signed on later. The agreement amended tribal gambling deals to formally block new casinos in metro Phoenix and allow more Keno games and poker tables at existing and new casinos.
Ducey said the Tohono O'odham tribe was welcome to sign onto the agreement if it agreed to the formal prohibition on additional Phoenix-area casinos.
The agreements signed with the tribes in December were considered a first step to a more extensive overhaul of tribal gambling agreements that limit what kind of gambling is allowed in casinos. Arizona voters in 2002 approved a law allowing the state to approve Indian casinos. The 2003 "compact" with numerous tribes followed.
That law was believed to limit the number of casinos in metro Phoenix. But the Tohono O'odham bought land near University of Phoenix stadium and applied for it to be taken into trust by the federal government in 2009. They then announced plans to build a large casino there, setting off the years of lawsuits that were ended with Wednesday's settlement.