Senate panel passes bill to block Tohono O'odham Nation casino

Artist's rendering of the West Valley Resort now under construction near Glendale, Arizona. Image from Tohono O'odham Nation

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill that prevents the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona from opening a casino at a business meeting this afternoon.

S.152, the Keep the Promise Act, does not mention the tribe by name. Instead, it bars Class II and Class III gaming on land placed in trust in the "Phoenix metropolitan area" after April 9, 2013 -- a situation that only applies to the Tohono O'odham Nation.

But rather than address the details of his bill, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) talked about another one he introduced more than 25 years ago -- the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. He accused the tribe of violating the 1988 law even though it contains an exclusion that applies to land claim settlements like the one that was used to acquire the site of the West Valley Resort already under construction in a suburb of Phoenix.

"I know what the intent of Congress was because I wrote the bill," McCain said this afternoon, referring to IGRA.

"Parachuting [a casino] into the middle of a city in my state is in violation of both the letter and spirit of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act," McCain said.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Senate Indian Affairs Committee Business Meeting to Consider S. 152

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman of the committee, was the only member who spoke out against the bill. He said it would make tribes nationwide question whether the federal government will uphold its word when it enters into settlements.

"I had hoped we were done breaking promises," Tester said.

Tester's objection, though, wasn't enough to stop the bill from moving forward. The committee approved it by a voice vote, clearing it for action on the Senate floor.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved H.R.308, an identical version of the bill, last month. It was approved for placement on the House calendar today so it could come up for a vote anytime.

Last Friday, the Congressional Budget Office, the non-partisan analysis agency, issued a cost estimate for the bill that estimated it could cost the federal government $1 billion or more if it becomes law.

Committee Notice:
Business Meeting to Consider S. 152 (April 29, 2015)

An Opinion:
E.J. Montini: Betting a billion (of your) bucks to block a casino (The Arizona Republic 4/29)

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