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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tohono O’odham Nation – An Emerging Juggernaut in the Desert


The Indian Gaming industry has been closely following over the past several years the saga of the Tohono O’odham Nation of Southern Arizona in its quest to develop a casino/hotel complex within the City of Glendale near the massive sports complex on the west side of the Phoenix Metro Area. The casino project has been tied up by massive resistance leading to both political and legal battles that are ongoing as this is written.

Although the casino complex site is some 70 miles north of the Nation’s historic reservation lands, Tohono O’odham has special federal legislation giving it the right to acquire land within Maricopa County and have it taken into trust and reservation status. This was enacted as part of a major settlement between the United States and the Nation for the federal government’s flooding of portions of the tribe’s Gila Bend Reservation with the 1960 completion of the Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River. The Glendale site was purchased for the purpose of adding it to the reservation as “replacement land,” and the Secretary of the Interior has announced that at least a portion of the Glendale tract will be taken into trust/reservation status. Still, the battles continue, and the Glendale project is on hold pending their resolution.

But the Nation is not sitting still in the interim, as evidenced by its just-announced purchase of valuable commercial real estate in Tucson for $4.2 million. The property is known as Plaza Antigua II and is occupied by a single tenant, University Medical Imaging. Knowledgeable observers have deemed this a sound investment likely to generate revenue for the Nation for many years to come. In short, a tribe that already has money in the bank due to $30 million received as part of the federal settlement and its three Desert Diamond casinos in southern Arizona is soon to have even more cash in the bank with which to pursue not only its Glendale project but other attractive investment opportunities.

Tohono O’odham has moved carefully in its economic development, including the steps to secure all of the necessary approvals for the Glendale casino project that is certain to be a major tribal casino from the day it opens for business. If past tribal success is prologue, then the casino is likely to become reality.

As for the future, you have to ask the Tohono O’odham. However, it is clear that other projects already are on the drawing boards.