WASHINGTON – Bills that would halt construction on a Tohono O’odham casino in Glendale passed committees in both the House and the Senate Wednesday.
The Keep the Promise Act of 2015 – introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale – would “prohibit gaming activities on certain Indian land in Arizona until the expiration of certain gaming compacts” in 2027.
“I am pleased the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has advanced this legislation in the Senate,” McCain said in a statement released by his office after the bill passed the committee on a voice vote.
“I introduced this bill because of objections raised by a number of Arizona mayors and other local elected officials who do not approve of this or any other Indian casino being airdropped into their communities,” his statement said.
The House bill, passed by a subcommittee last month, was formally sent to the full House Wednesday.
Tohono O’odham officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but have repeatedly criticized what they call the “job-killing legislation” by Franks and McCain. The West Valley Resort and Casino would create an estimated 3,000 permanent jobs, said the tribe, which broke ground on the project last year.
“After the Nation has consistently followed the law, it is shameful for the Senate to consider breaking the federal government’s word, and placing taxpayers on the hook for this special interest earmark,” said Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris in a statement posted on the tribe’s web site.
“If this legislation passes, all tribes should question whether Congress can be trusted to keep its word in land and water rights settlements,” the statement said.
But other tribes welcomed the vote Wednesday. The Tohono O’odham project is opposed by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa, Gila River and Fort McDowell Yavapai tribes, which all have casinos in the Valley.
“The community stands united with the governor of Arizona, the attorney general, many city leaders in the Phoenix area, and tribal leaders throughout the state, in confirming that voters never intended to have ‘casino reservations’ created by a tribe in the middle of a city, more than 100 miles away from its reservation,” said Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Delbert Ray Sr. in a statement Wednesday.
“Additionally, this legislation is consistent with the state’s position that principles of fraud and misrepresentation nullify any contention that the Tohono O’odham Nation may create a new casino reservation in the middle of Glendale, at a site across the street from a public high school,” Ray’s statement said.
The statement from the Gila River Indian Community said that without action from Congress, the Tohono O’odham could build three other casinos on other off-reservation lands they have in Maricopa.
But the Tohono O’odham have pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report on the House version of the bill that said the tribe would likely sue Congress if the bills passed, which could ultimately cost taxpayers up to $1 billion in litigation and settlements.
“This announcement by the CBO – a nonpartisan agency which produces independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues – calls into question why fiscally conservative members of Congress would want to support this legislation,” the tribe said in a statement last week.
That statement quoted Norris as charging the bills’ backers with “working so hard to send Arizona workers to the unemployment line.”
“Now we also are trying to understand why they would be willing to make American taxpayers foot the bill for creating this job-killing legislation, all to protect the market share of a few wealthy special interests,” his statement said.