Opinion: Sen. McCain changes tune on tribal casino in Arizona

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) at the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians. February 28, 2006. Washington, DC
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). File photo by Indianz.Com

Why is Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) pushing legislation to prevent the Tohono O'odham Nation from using its trust land for a casino? Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor whose work at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington helped expose the Jack Abramoff scandal, believes it all comes down to lobbying cash:
From 2004 to 2006, Washington was transfixed by the revelations that several Indian tribes had paid exorbitant fees to then-uber lobbyist Jack Abramoff to stop other tribes from opening casinos that might siphon gamblers away from their own operations.

Ten years and little has changed. Since 2009, the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) in Arizona has spent nearly $11 million on lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would prevent the Tohono O’odham Nation from opening a competing casino. A sister tribe, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, also with casinos in the Phoenix area, has dropped a couple million dollars more on the fight.

That’s a lot of money spent in service of an issue that most Americans care nothing about. Two Arizona members of Congress, Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. John McCain, keep the issue bubbling. The question is why.

McCain’s support of anti-Tohono legislation is more puzzling. According to local officials in Phoenix, he vowed several years ago not to take sides in the squabble.

Sen. McCain has decried the “grinding poverty” that suffuses many reservations and, partnering with his mentor, Rep. Mo Udall, wrote the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 after the Supreme Court held states can’t control gambling on reservations. Although he claimed to have qualms about the development of Indian casinos, he acknowledged that when tribes “are faced with only one option for economic development, and that is to set up gambling on their reservations, then I cannot disapprove.”

Once sympathetic to the Tohono’s plight, McCain’s tune has changed. After long refraining from taking a position on the matter, last August he introduced legislation to kill the Tohono casino. This year, he’s back with another bill.

Get the Story:
Melanie Sloan: Why is Sen. McCain carrying the Gila River Indian Community’s water? (The Glendale Star 5/13)

Also Today:
Glendale Councilman Sherwood to face recall election (The Arizona Republic 5/13)

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