Rivals outspend Tohono O'odham Nation in urban casino battle

Chairman Ned Norris Jr. signed the last steel beam that's part of the initial structure for the West Valley Resort near Glendale, Arizona. Photo from Facebook

Two rival tribes are outspending the Tohono O'odham Nation in hopes of blocking a new casino that would compete with their existing facilities in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The Gila River Indian Community spent $3.7 million on lobbying in 2014, up from $2.8 million in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The tribe operates three casinos in the south metro area.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which operates three casinos on the eastern side, spent a smaller amount -- $560,000, according to the center. But the rival tribes still beat out the Tohono O'odham Nation's expenditures of $1.6 million.

“It looks like what they’ve been able to accomplish is buying the legislation that the Senate committee passed,” Chairman Ned Norris Jr. told The Arizona Daily Sun, referring to S.152, which was approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last Wednesday.

The Tohono O'odham Nation is increasing its lobbying efforts as a result. The tribe spent $410,000 in the first quarter of this year, according to the center, although that's still below the $980,000 spent by the Gila River Indian Community.

In both cases, however, the tribes or their lobbyists say some of the funds went to other issues besides the casino fight.

Artist's rendering of the West Valley Resort under construction in Arizona. Image from Facebook

The Tohono O'odham Nation plans to open the West Valley Resort on the west side of Phoenix by the end of the year. But if Congress enacts S.152, also known as the Keep the Promise Act, the tribe would not be allowed to conduct Class II or Class III gaming at the site, which was placed in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in July 2014.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved H.R.308, an identical version of the bill, last month. So the House or the Senate could take action at any time.

The Congressional Budget Office said enactment of the bill could cost the federal government $1 billion or more because the tribe could seek damages from being denied the use of its trust lands.

Get the Story:
Big money spent on casino clash (The Arizona Daily Star 5/3)
Congress steps into Indian Country brawl (The Hill 5/3)

An Opinion:
Doug MacEachern: Glendale casino supporters celebrate tribal backstabbing (The Arizona Republic 5/2)

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