Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 25, 2011


Host: Ted Simons

Glendale Casino Update


  • Get the latest information on efforts by the Tohono O’odham Indian nation to build a casino in Glendale. The Phoenix Business Journal’s Mike Sunnucks will bring us up to date.
Guests:
  • Mike Sunnucks - Phoenix Business Journal
Category: Government

View Transcript

Ted Simons: Plans by the Tohono O'Odham tribe to build a casino on land it owns near 91st Avenue and Northern seem to be progressing despite strong opposition from Glendale officials and state politicians. Here with an update from Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal." Mike thanks for being here. Good to see you. Give us the latest on all this. Let's start with some of the basics. 91st Avenue and Northern, how much land out there are we talking about?

Mike Sunnucks: I think it’s about 50 acres. No, actually they cut it down. It was at 91st and Glendale came in and said we annexed part of that. The tribes kind of move the it to the west a little bit so it's more close to 95th. It's right on that parcel north of Westgate, University of Phoenix Stadium Jobbing.com, right across from a high school which is a concern for Glendale, and the tribe seems to be moving forward in the courts. They’ve won the case in the courts so far. It's on appeal. They have got the approval from the interior department so the tribe seems to be moving forward but they’ve got some hurdles to go.

Ted Simons: Go ahead and again give us a concise history of this whole situation and where we stand now, which you are saying basically seems to be in the tribe's court.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah the tribe seems to be to have the advantage because of an 1980s era law sponsored by McCain when he was in Congress and Barry Goldwater that said the O’Odham tribe could replace some lands they lost historically. Now those lands could be on unincorporated land in Phoenix, the Phoenix area, Pinnell county or Tucson and so they went in quietly under kind of a holding company name out of the Seattle and bought this parcel, way before the stadium or the arena or Westgate or any of that commercial development were built. And so they kind of sat there all these years, empty, and then suddenly, a couple years ago, they popped up and said, hey, we want to build a $500 million casino and threw a wrench in everybody's plans. Caught Glendale totally off guard and sparked this huge legal political fight between that city and the tribe.

Ted Simons: Let's go to both sides of this fight. The tribe's position they bought the land fair and square, it's going to bring in construction jobs, these sorts of things. Correct?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. They say it will help the area, it’ll help Westgate, help bring people to that area, help the west valley grow, bring construction jobs in at a time when things are really tough and they point to this 1980s law that's pretty specific they replace lands they lost historically because of settlements down there and moves down there by white folks, essentially and they can buy this land and this fits that -- seems to fit that definition pretty well.

Ted Simons: OK Glendale's position is that the tribe bought it under kind of a weird corporate name, kind of tried to slip through there. Tribe waits until infrastructure is in and all of a sudden decides, hey, give us more of what Glendale is saying here.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a few tax on Glendale. They didn't like how the tribe did it. They felt they were left in the dark. They let all of this infrastructure come in that Glendale and other folks paid for and then suddenly they are going to, not pay any taxes on it because it would be tribal land. They say you know the feds approved this. The interior department approved this plan. They say that steps on states rights. The state has the right to do this. The state gaming compact and it will be a poison pill. They have some allies in other tribes that don't like this saying it will blow up what voters approved.

Ted Simons: That's a big deal, too. Because the gaming compact has certain parameters. You start messing with the parameters, all bets are off so to speak correct?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. Absolutely. The other tribes who opposed this casino say, ok it's going to open everything up, it's going to be a poison pill. The O’Odham tribe says, oh no, we are allowed another casino and this fits under that. It be interesting to see what happens on the impact on other tribes, other gaming compacts.

Ted Simons: And again now, Glendale, this is all in the courts. Ninth circuit?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, Glendale lost the first round in the court. They appealed it. Going to go to the Federal appeals court in San Francisco. We will see what happens there. And they got a tough go I think right now. That law is pretty specific, you know, and it's unincorporated land that the tribe can replace it and that's, that's their argument and that's what the lower court went with.

Ted Simons: Now, the legislature tried to get involved in this and I guess did to a certain degree but there are complications there. Correct?

Mike Sunnucks: Everybody, politically in town, the tribe doesn't have a lot of friends. The Congressional delegation, the governor, folks in the legislature, Russell Pearce are all against this casino. And so they tried to pass legislation trying to basically allow cities to stop this from happening. It was basically a Glendale versus O'Odham tribe bill. The problem is I don’t think it’ll go into effect fast enough for them to stop it. The tribe will say this is a Federal law. This is going to supersede state law. That's always going to be the tribe's kind of fall back on this and they have a big advantage there legally, I think.

Ted Simons: Speaking of legally you refer to the tribe is pushing for the interior department to get some kind of opinion in the ninth circuit to help move things along. But it seems as though from the tribe's perspective things are moving along quite nicely.

Mike Sunnucks: yeah, they’ve done pretty well. They did have to sue at one point to get the interior department to move forward because they kind of sat on it this for a while. This has happened in other states. California is a place where these tribes come in, try locate casinos. The Federal government seems to take a long time in trying to determine there’s a lot of political factors you have when both Senators from the state and the governor opposed, that complicates matters back in D.C. so they had to sue at one point. You might see some more suits obviously on both sides on this. I don't think Glendale is going to give up easily.

Ted Simons: Last question. You mentioned Glendale. This is an ancillary question but what the heck is going on out there? You have got some tough situations with the Coyotes going on, you got this casino problem. Development out there isn't quite happening around some of these sporting facilities like they thought. What's going on?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, if anybody has a lot of challenges because of the economy and the real estate crash, it's Glendale. Westgate has not turned out how they originally hoped. They hoped to have a lot more development around there. They wanted to make it into a jobs center where people worked out there, went out to eat, went to the hockey games and the bars. That hasn't happened because of the recession. Obviously the Coyote situation has gone on for three years. They’re fighting with the Goldwater institute, trying to find money to buy the team. They’re fighting with the tribe over this parcel. That's just north of there. There's a lot of developments that they had hoped to come in there that haven't. Some of it is just bad timing. Everything collapsed on them. Other stuff is, they're really spatting with a lot of people.

Ted Simons: All right. Mike, good stuff. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

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