Two elected officials from the far East Valley were in Washington, D.C. last month to support legislation that would block the construction of an Indian casino in Glendale and prevent similar scenarios from being proposed locally.
Apache Junction Mayor John Insalaco, Mesa Vice Mayor Christopher Glover and other local officials met with legislators in the nation’s capitol Sept. 16-17 to speak in favor of S. 2670, a bill introduced in July by Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, Mayor Insalaco said in an interview Sept. 22.
Airfare and hotel were paid for by Indian tribes that oppose a proposed Tohono O’odham casino, Mayor Insalaco said. His travel expenses were paid by the Gila River Indian Community, he said, while Vice Mayor Glover’s were funded by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Mr. Glover said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Also in attendance were Councilman Jeff Weninger from Chandler, Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp from Scottsdale, Councilman Sal DiCiccio from Phoenix District 6 and Mayor Jerry Weiers from Glendale, Mayor Insalaco said.
S. 2670 is similar to HR 1410, known as the Keep the Promise Act, which prohibits gaming activities on certain Indian lands in Arizona until the expiration of certain gaming compacts, according to govtrack.us. Specifically, HR 1410 prohibits construction of any new Indian gaming operation on unincorporated land within the metropolitan Phoenix area that is not contiguous to an existing Indian reservation.
The casino being proposed by the Tohono O’odham Nation would be built on a 53.54-acre parcel in Maricopa County that the tribe received in trust from the U.S. Department of the Interior as part of the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act, according to a statement made May 16, 2013, by Mike Black, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, Committee on Natural Resources and U.S. House of Representatives and available on the DOI website.
The land replaced Tohono O’odham land damaged by flooding during the construction of the Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River, Mr. Black said.
If Indian gaming is allowed on the parcel, it could open the door for Indian gaming in the far East Valley, two local legislators said.
“The heart of the issue is the county island,” Mesa Vice Mayor Glover said during a phone interview Sept. 24. “If the casino is allowed to be built, and the nation has not said this is the only casino it will build, it could purchase county islands anywhere in the state. This has the potential to open a Pandora’s box where they could break the compact of 2002 and could allow tribal gaming to explode.”
As a result, municipalities could be forced to annex the county islands and be forced to bring the parcels up to city standards, Vice Mayor Glover said.
“It’s important for cities to have local control and determine what goes on in our boundaries, and to not have one entity decide there is nothing we can do about it,” the vice mayor said.
The compact is part of Proposition 202, which Arizona voters passed in 2002. The bill prevents casinos from being built near schools, residences and churches, Mayor Insalaco said.
“It’s not that we’re against casinos, but this one is in the wrong place. It’s across from a school,” Mayor Insalaco said.
Vice Mayor Glover considered the trip successful because it “drove home how this could have a detrimental effect on our communities,” he said.
“No one thought a casino would be planned in the middle of Glendale. Who knows? It could do the same in Mesa or Apache Junction,” Mesa’s vice mayor said.
Mayor Insalaco said he was concerned that a casino in the East Valley could hurt small businesses.
“We don’t have that many county islands in Apache Junction but state land is so close. Who knows what could happen there that could kill all our restaurants in town,” he said.
The legislators’ trip was paid for by Indian tribes that oppose the proposed Tohono O’odham casino and with whom the local municipalities have a good relationship, Mayor Insalaco said.
“We get a million acre-feet of water from the Gila River tribe and grants from the Fort McDowell tribe. You support those who support you,” he said.
Arizona Indian tribes that sent representatives to Washington, D.C. in September included the Gila River Indian Community, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Quechan Tribe, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Hualapai Tribe and Cocopah Indian Tribe, the Apache Junction mayor said.
Mayor Insalaco and then Mesa Mayor Alex Finter attended an Indian gaming hearing in July on the same subject. Another hearing is scheduled in November, he said. Mayor Insalaco and Vice Mayor Glover said they would be available to attend it.
Reach staff writer Wendy Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org