The Desert Diamond Casinos in Southern Arizona are owned and operated by the Tohono O’odham Nation. The Nation already has three casinos and offers table play, slot games, and online content as well. There was excitement as the Tohono O’odham started moving forward with plans to expand into Glendale, AZ. However, those plans are facing political and legal roadblocks which put the future of the new casino and resort into an uncertain state of flux.
The reasons for the conflict stretch back a little over a decade. There was a new Gaming Compact negotiated between the state of Arizona and tribal leaders in 2002. Voters decided in 2002 to accept the new agreements, which would allow Class III gaming activities to be regulated by the state. This Compact also mandated that there would be mandatory monetary contributions to the state from the tribes based on net income.
In 2003, the Tohono O’odham purchased acreage near Glendale to replace reservation land that had been flooded by a federal dam project. The new property was incorporated into the reservation. Later, the tribe began construction on a new casino resort on that land. They committed to an opening date in 2015.
There was political fallout when it was claimed that the Glendale purchase had been done in an underhanded manner. The argument was made that the tribe had bought the land with every intention of building a casino on it and not just to replace lost land. Taking the claim further, it was said that the 2002 Compact could only apply to reservation lands in existence at that time. The issue at hand was that the agreements had limited the locations and numbers of gaming venues owned and operated by Arizona tribes. The loophole that opponents say was exploited by the Nation was that of the aforementioned replacement land. The opposition states that the band was clearly trying to go behind the state’s back to circumvent the agreement before it had even been agreed upon.
The Tohono O’odham Nation continues to prepare for a December launch of their Class II gaming facility, even as a US Representative attempted to slip a bill in for a House consent vote that would prevent any casino to be opened on that land until 2027 at the earliest. Supporters in the House have managed to block the bill for the time being, but supporters in Glendale are concerned.
A recent job fair held by the band resulted in thousands of applications followed by a few hundred hires on the spot. The West Valley expects the casino resort to bring a strong surge in their economy and though the support is not universal, said support is still very strong and vocal. Supporters of the new gaming facility say that halting the project could cost the government millions while opponents state that blocking the resort would not result in any budgetary change. The Congressional Budget Office was asked by reporters which side was correct, but the government office was not able to clearly answer the question. Situations such as these are full of so many variables that it is almost impossible to predict what the results will be. The only thing that could be said with certainty was that halting the project would cost the Tohono O’odham a substantial amount of money.
The tribe is still moving forward, having inked agreements with Everi Holdings Inc for a wide range of the company’s electronic devices. Everi is known for its electronic gaming devices and payment kiosks. There will also be tax support and anti-money laundering reporting. The nature of the gaming devices will depend entirely on what agreements are reached with the state.
The state licenses and regulates all Class III gaming but has no sway over Class II. Class II gaming is primarily bingo related. There are no dealer tables with blackjack and poker with a Class II license. Class II electronic gaming devices have to end in what the Indian Game Regulating Act terms a “game-ending pattern.” That is to say that the numbers drawn must end the game with a winning result. Class III gaming, in comparison, allows for the live play that is such a draw for players. The slot games in this class can end with a null result. Functionally, Class II games can be just as much entertainment for the consumer as Class III. However, the Class III electronic and table games are the big draw for tourists.
The Tohono O’odham Nation enterprise still moves steadily forward. The announcement has been made that the casino resort will open in December as a Class II gaming facility. The tribe still hopes to acquire Class III authorization by the time the resort has been fully completed. Until then the resort has 400 employees already hired, with the anticipation for further need as construction continues.
The future is still in flux for the West Valley Desert Diamond Casino Resort. The possibility still exists that political opponents will block any casino activity on the property, but as the opening day nears the supporters seem to be blocking those endeavors successfully.