Southern Arizona tribe files lawsuit asking court to allow $200 million casino to open

Industries Associated Press

A tribe in southern Arizona that wants its new Phoenix-area casino to open by the end of this year has filed a lawsuit naming Gov. Doug Ducey and other top Arizona officials.

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The lawsuit filed by the Tohono O'odham Nation in federal court asks a judge to issue an injunction ordering the state to stop trying to block the casino between Glendale and Peoria from opening.

Opponents of the casino say a 2002 gambling compact prohibits the casino from opening, while a 2013 court decision that's currently under appeal says otherwise.

The Department of Gaming has notified vendors that they could face certification issues if they work at the tribe's proposed West Valley Resort operation. The state also plans to notify prospective employees that they may not work for an unauthorized gambling facility.

The $200 million casino is the subject of a legal conflict that has lasted six years.

Ducey's spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, had no immediate comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.

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The tribe's lawsuit cites a Phoenix federal judge's ruling in 2013 that said federal law and the state's gambling compact allow the tribe to open the casino.

Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Edward Manuel said Ducey and the state Gaming Department were "defying federal law" in an effort to block the casino, which has been under construction for nearly a year. "This extreme political effort to stop this important project cannot be allowed," Manuel said in a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed Monday.

In April, state Gaming Director Daniel Bergin sent a letter to the tribe saying he would block any certification of the new casino. That action came after Ducey sent a letter to Bergin saying the state reserves the right to cancel its entire gambling compact with the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Ducey said the tribe engaged in fraud when it negotiated with the state for a gambling compact because it didn't disclose its plans for a casino in the Phoenix area. It has casinos outside Tucson.

The tribe denies it engaged in fraud and points to the federal judge's 2013 ruling.