The Arizona casino for the Tohono O’odham Nation is finally underway.
It took eight years and buckets full of cash for lawyers to fend off opponents, but its Desert Diamond West Valley casino is going up at last. Located in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, the $400 million venue will offer a 75,000-square-foot gaming area to include slot machines, live bingo, blackjack, poker, and five restaurants.
A hotel and spa are planned for the next phase, once the casino itself is complete.
The venue will be in the Westgate Entertainment District, which houses retail, restaurants, the arena for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, and outlet shops. The University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, is less than two miles from the future casino as well.
At the groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 1, tribal leaders announced construction would take two years and proclaimed it would provide 1,500 jobs. Once finished, approximately 1,600 people are projected to find employment by the tribe.
In 2015, the tribe opened a temporary facility just south of where the new one will be erected. It has Class II gaming, which uses slot machines based on a bingo format and has no table games.
The earlier opposition to Desert Diamond West Valley included several politicians, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Senator John McCain. The tribe announced its plans back in 2009 and immediately, government officials from the city of Glendale and the state said they would pursue legal action to stop the development.
They were joined by other Native American tribes, including the Gila River Indian Community, who filed suit in 2010, claiming the new establishment would bring an unfair advantage to the Tohono O’odham and adversely affect their own property.
The City of Glendale also sued to stop the project, saying a tax-exempt casino would be a drain on city services and unfairly compete with other gaming facilities. Tribal leaders countered by saying the city would receive a percentage of gross gaming revenue and would bring in thousands of jobs.
Land Acquisition Controversy
What upset city, state and tribal leaders so much was how the Tohono O’odham acquired the land. In 2003, the tribe secretly bought a parcel of land in Glendale with the intention of building a casino.
The Nation believed it had this right, because they purchased the land under an agreement with the federal government to replace a portion of its reservation that was damaged by a flood caused by a government-built dam.
But officials for the state say the tribe committed fraud, because it didn’t disclose its casino plan until six years later. Lawmakers also maintained that voters had approved a bill in 2008 that would limit the number of casinos that could be built.
The case wound its way through the courts, and in 2016, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor for the tribe. The Tohono O’odham also sued the state of Arizona, who prevented them from getting the Class III gaming license that would allow the Nation to offer Las Vegas-style gaming, including slots and table games.
In May, the tribe settled with the state and received approval for that Class III license.