State officials fight for trial in casino case

Tribe says compact didn’t ban new casinos

By Cristina Silva
Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — A ruling that allows the Tohono O’odham Nation to build a sprawling, Las Vegas-style casino in suburban Phoenix is improper because it is based on an objective interpretation of Arizona’s gambling compact, state officials said in a court filing submitted last week.

Instead, the court should base its decision on what both sides agreed the contract meant before it was approved by voters in 2002, plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue. They include the state, the Gila River Indian Community and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. They insist the Tohono were aware that the contract indirectly banned new casinos, but kept silent about their plans to build a new casino until after the measure cleared the ballot.

The Tohono tribe countered that the contract-interpretation claim has been resolved and that the court should move on. They argue there is nothing ambiguous about state gambling laws, which do not ban new casinos.

U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell said in his recent ruling that the Tohono O’odham Nation’s development is legal because the state’s gambling compact did not contain language prohibiting new casino construction. Opponents insist the casino ban was implicit and part of the reason why voters approved the compact.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in 2011 to stop the casino, saying it violates zoning and state laws.