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GLENDALE – Leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation and this West Valley city broke ground Thursday on a $400 million casino resort that has been the subject of lawsuits and legislation to block it.
While opponents have objected to the West Valley Resort and Casino being within a city, Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said the development is on land that his people are allowed as reparation for flooding caused by the Painted Rock Dam, built on the Gila River caused in the 1960s.
“It is the work of generations of nations’ leaders, the result of a long struggle, to turn a great wrong into a new opportunity for our people and for all of Arizona,” Norris said.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has declared the recently purchased property to be tribal trust land.
Leaders of other tribes have said the casino violates an agreement among tribes as well as the 2002 gaming compact that Arizona voters approved in 2002. Norris said that isn’t the case.
“The West Valley Resort is not an expansion of gaming but a fulfillment of our rights that the voters of Arizona approved,” he said.
A Tohono O’odham Nation news release said the casino will provide more than 3,000 permanent jobs and generate economic benefits of more than $300 million each year.
The site lies between 91st and 95th avenues along West Northern Avenue. Construction is expected to take 16 months.
The project weathered 14 lawsuits over five years as well as opposition from Glendale leaders. Recently, however, Glendale and the tribe finalized the agreement that will provide the city more than $25 million over 20 years.
In July, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake introduced a bill to block the casino by preventing any new casino from being built in metro Phoenix area. It’s a companion to a bill sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale.
Asked for comment on Thursday’s groundbreaking, neither McCain’s nor Flake’s office responded, while Flake’s office send this statement: “Senator Flake continues to believe that off-reservation casinos violate the spirit of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”
Across the street from the reception, Pamela Mott, a member of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation northeast of the Valley, held a sign saying, “Be Honest And Keep The Promise.” She and several others from the tribe held a demonstration against the casino.
“I’m all for jobs and economic boost too, but we gotta do it the right way,” said Mott, the tribal council treasurer. “Breaking promises isn’t the right way.”
Timothy L. Joaquin, chairman of the legislative branch for Tohono O’odham Nation, said people who argue that his tribe signed an agreement not to build a casino in metro Phoenix are misled.
“We never made that promise; that’s the reason why we are moving forward,” he said.
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